Saturday, March 12, 2011

What is an Interfaith Minister? Interspiritual Minister? Integral Minister?

Interfaith Minister? Interspiritual Minister? Integral Minister?  What do the terms mean?  Three ministers share their perspective.  Please add your own comments at the end of this post.

Chapter 1: I am an Interfaith Minister
Rev. Tim Miner OUnI

I am an “Interfaith Minister.”  It says so on my ordination certificate from an interfaith seminary.  Despite all the books I’ve read, retreats I’ve attended and discussions I have had, I still wonder if I really know what that term means.  Perhaps this discussion will help.

I was called to the ministry to serve as a chaplain.  Chaplaincy was created as a way to provide “soul-care” within invading armies in distant lands by the Romans over two-thousand years ago.  A smart emperor realized that if the army could provide “hope” to its soldiers facing the dangers of their profession they would fight better.  Religion became an instrument of the state and it was always the “official state religion” that had the representatives present.  With the start of the religious wars within Europe, emerging political and spiritual leaders realized that besides hope, the chaplains could provide “moral justification” to the soldiers—God was on “our” side!  It wasn’t until President Abraham Lincoln ordered the Army to hire Jewish rabbis to serve as chaplains during the United States’ Civil War in 1864, that any country had a multi-faith chaplaincy program.  Being a chaplain became a profession and chaplains were not seen as much as representatives of their church, which they were, but as “a spiritual resource” of a commander to meet a need.  There are many examples of rabbis administering Catholic rites before battle during the wars of the 20th century because they were the only clergy available.  It was and still is expected. 

Chaplaincy also became part of the culture where ever humans faced their mortality and danger.  That these places were usually public created significant challenges in our pluralistic society in the United States.  Now they are in hospitals, hospices and support fire and police activities.  Unless there is an immediate need, chaplains usually respect the boundaries of religious labels and territory.  However when the need is there they rise to assist if possible.  I am still in awe of one of my seminary classmates, a Jew, who was serving as a volunteer chaplain in a hospital when a new-born with severe birth defects came into the world for only a few short hours.  The child was born to Hispanic parents who spoke no English, and my classmate summoned up his best college Spanish lessons to administer the Catholic rite to the dying child to give hope to the child’s parents.  Chaplains still give hope and L.O.V.E.  They Listen, Observe, Validate, and Empower.  They serve whoever they are with usually with a “ministry of presence” since most don’t know how to serve everyone spiritually.  That is about to change now with the creation of the “Interfaith Minister.” 

In my opinion I should be trained to serve the spiritual needs of all people of all faiths.  This means that I come to them where ever they are and based on their beliefs I will meet their needs right now with the tools of ritual and spiritual counseling that are appropriate for the client.  I do not judge the correctness of their belief.  I minister to that belief to provide hope and LOVE.  Many Interfaith Ministers have been doing this through life celebration services, usually weddings, for over thirty years now.  I would like to see Interfaith Ministry go deeper and meet more needs of their world.

It will take a lifetime to know the prayers and ceremonies that I will need to serve all people of all faiths.  I should be comfortable with the holy texts of as many faiths as possible.  I should try to learn as many spiritual languages as I can.  As a role model, I look to the work of Reverend Dr. Huston Smith, is the author of the book, “The World’s Religions.”  He lived the life of each of the faiths he studied to truly understand them.  When I had the blessed fortune to speak to him, his advice was to me was to… “dig my roots as deep as I can in my own faith, soar as high as I can spiritually, and spread my wings as wide as possible to embrace as many people of different faiths as I can.”  This, to me, makes me a more effective Interfaith Minister and it gives me the chance to give as much hope and LOVE as I can to a hurting world.

(Tim is a co-founder of OUnI and the Executive Director of the Council of Interfaith Congregations of the United States.  He serves as an accredited law-enforcement chaplain at the local and federal levels.)

Chapter 2: I am an Interspiritual Minister
Reverend T. S. Pennington OUnI

I became an ordained interfaith minister in June of 2008. I understand the role of an interfaith minister is to know enough of the tenets, rituals, language, prayers, and spiritual constructs of various faith traditions to meet the needs of those they encounter, especially when those individuals are in crisis. I deeply admire those who dedicate their lives to such profound service.

They can serve in an increasing variety of institutions:
           Hospitals and hospices
           Treatment and therapy centers
           Military bases
           Police and fire stations
           Colleges and universities

I know many interfaith ministers who are providing the traditional rituals of weddings, baby blessings, memorial services, funerals and other creative rites of passage to the growing number of persons from mixed religious backgrounds or who would label themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”. There are some who are stepping up into the challenge of forming communities and congregations that are dedicated in heart-felt reverence to the teachings and scriptures of several different religious traditions.
I started studying the various religions of the world about forty-five years ago. So I guess that it makes sense that much of the work I do now is with local and national interfaith groups that promote dialogue and understanding between faith traditions. But for the far majority of this time, I have also walked the path of a mystic. I cannot decide whether to describe my path as being from across many traditions or from no tradition.

Andrew Harvey is often described as a modern mystic. He writes about mysticism in several different traditions. In my work with Andrew’s ideal of Sacred Activism, I have identified the cause that breaks my heart the most is when people would use something that is deeply sacred to them, their religious tradition, as a reason to hate, imprison, persecute, and kill a person of a different faith. I believe one of the main duties of an interfaith or interspiritual minister is to stand in love and compassion for everyone involved against such injustices.

Stephen Prothero in his book God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter writes “The world’s religious rivals do converge when it comes to ethics, but they diverge sharply on doctrine, ritual, mythology, experience, and law. These differences may not matter to mystics or philosophers of religion, but they matter to ordinary religious people.” I agree with his viewpoint is that everyone needs a basic knowledge of all the major faith traditions as a basis to understand each other. But that will not serve as a solution to the rivalry that exists between them. It is by having that deep wisdom contained within all these traditions became centered in one’s heart that these differences between the traditions lessen in their significance. So I interpret this statement as an invitation for ‘ordinary religious people’ to become mystics.

Brother Wayne Teasdale coined the term Interspiritual in his book The Mystic Heart Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions. I resonated to the core of my being with his message of becoming a mystic in these modern times so that humanity may no longer use their religious differences as a justification for their hatred and acts against another person. For me, a mystic is a person who goes beyond the dogma and rigid structures of their faith because their heart is so broken open by the suffering of this world, and yet they stay madly, passionately in love with all manifestations of the Divine they see in their everyday life.

In my eyes, an interspiritual minister is an interfaith minister, who is also a mystic. Therefore, they must also have a basic knowledge of the mysticism within the various faith traditions, they will encourage and counsel a person as they follow their path towards becoming a mystic, and they promote religious and theological conversations between the world’s religions from their mystical foundations rather than just sharing their tenets and rituals. Because of their trans-traditional insight, an interspiritual minister brings a unique perspective and “heart-space” presence when addressing social situations characterized by uncertainty, unrest or tragedy.

 (T.S. is a practicing Interspiritual Minister and leader of the forming interspiritual community within OUnI.  He is a D.Min. candidate at Wisdom University.)

Chapter 3: I am an Integral Minister
Lynne Feldman OUnI

Finding Meaning in Our Lives
“Reflections on The Ten Challenges, Chapter 1: “Discovering the Still Small Voice Within.”

Within the Introduction to the text The Ten Challenges I have discovered the thesis of why I am committed to the concept of Integral Ministers and mentors.  Within the various professions in which I have engaged over my life---political speechwriter, educator, lawyer, Integral program generator, meditation facilitator---I find myself consistently advocating for finding meaning within one’s life. 

Child, adult, seeker, criminal, addict…they all seem to be bereft of a sense of ennobling meaning to this precious human life, and are in their own distorted ways trying to fill up that hole in their bellies, as Felder puts it.  From the first pages of this book I have been won over by his argument, and have turned to Victor Frankl for inspiration and guidance.  I deeply believe that what we are facing at our core psycho-spiritual issues that must be dealt with by both disciplines and within an Integral framework.

Frankl came from the literal cauldron of the Holocaust, and noted that among those given a chance for survival, it was those who held on to a vision of the future -- whether it be a significant task before them, or a return to their loved ones -- that were most likely to survive their suffering. I found it ironic that Frankl took from Nietzsche’s perspective that “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how." (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in 1963, p. 121) 

After his time in the camps, he returned to work and created his theory which he named logotherapy, from the Greek word logos, which can mean “study, word, spirit, God, or meaning”.  Logotherapy postulates that a will to meaning is the root of all human motivation, and once again I must agree with Frankl.

Frankl also uses the Greek word noös, which means mind or spirit, and calls us to pay attention to noödynamics, whereby the tension in striving for some worthy goal is necessary for health.  Once again I am in full accord, having written papers on this for publication and presentation.  Experts in the area of adult development and spiritual growth all concur that there must be some tension, some dialectic, in process that spurs growth.  Persons and organizations that refuse to permit, or repress, tension in their lives fail to grow; they are stagnant; they do not evolve.  Evolution and spiritual transformation can be a messy and painful process, but it is a process toward life, toward meeting our destinies, toward leading fulfilling lives.  Educators call this the “sweet spot”, where the educator presents just enough tension and novelty that the student is intrigued and challenged to reach toward the next more complex level of understanding, a level that provides more spacious and greater capacity for enjoyment and understanding.

In The Ten Challenges, Felder begins with a discussion of Frankl, the society from which he emerged, and at whose hands he was tortured: Germany in the 20th Century (at least pre-Treaty of Versailles) was at the apex of social, cultural, and scientific advancement. 

Yet look what happened to ordinary human beings in a few short years.  By the 20th Century, philosophers, scientists, and social scientists could appear confident that humanity was on a trajectory toward some type of utopia where science would lead the way to greater and greater opportunities.  We looked down on indigenous tribes that seemed oh-so-primitive in light of our traditional societies, where we had replaced base instincts with our “sophisticated” social traditions and norms.

Today, however, we hardly even have that, and the wreckage of the 20th Century turned into a further nightmare upon the birth of the 21st with 9/11 and the rise of suicide bombers.  So where does morality come from today, or a sense that life is worth living, that it has innate meaning and thus we must place moral and ethical constrictions on our free will?

 Most attempt to find guidance in social conformity and religious conventionality.  Social conformity turns out to be a trap, with materialism given to us as the ultimate meaning:  “I shop, therefore I am.”  Our religious institutions exist to perpetuate fairy tales and to offer what Wilber calls translations of how nicely our egos are doing, and how good we are if we follow the dogma and rituals.  Tradition and traditional values are quickly disappearing from many people's lives.

My teenage students cried out year after year about the increasingly difficult job of figuring out how to make their own choices in life, to find their own meaning. How bereft our young are in their creation of a sense of meaning and a guide for making decisions!  I saw them beg me for guidance in this area, which I attempted to do, but for which I paid a heavy price.  By answering their need, I posed a serious threat to the administration of the school that only wanted the students to memorize facts and regurgitate them back on multiple choice tests.

What I have seen from the work I have done in my life, and for the Integral programs that I hope I can bring to life at One Spirit, is that Frankl is correct about our current sense of meaninglessness in life and how this leads to what he calls the mass neurotic triad: depression, addiction, and aggression.  It is ironic that the only source of meaning for today’s youth is to get involved in sports, and that only encourages aggression, win/lose, either/or thinking.  Even my students threw up their hands when every activity (including chess) that they asked the administration to provide HAD to be accompanied by a competition: no chess club unless there is a chess league and the chance of chess trophies!  The students were not even permitted to play chess for the sheer joy of it.

Frankl offers paths to meaning: (1) the first he calls experiential values, by which he means any sensory interaction with something we love, such as art, music, friends, and nature; (2) the second path is through creative values, or by doing something that we love, such as making music, singing, quilting, building a house, serving a meal; (3) the final path he calls attitudinal values, and those include what we might call virtues such as compassion, and the bravery achieved through suffering.

This may appear to be a roundabout way to explain what and why Integral ministers are going to be of critical concern as we advance into the 21st Century.  Imagine the teens asking an Integral Minister about how and with whom to have sex; about abortion and birth control;  Imagine a parent with a critically ill child asking the Integral Minister about the ethical implication of various treatments; the middle-aged child asking for guidance about the proper treatment of an aged parent with dementia; and seeking succor at the end of life…..

With the Integral framework in use, with the Integral Minister capable of creating sacred space with those who seek guidance, with knowledge of the developmental stages, co-arising interior and exterior individual and collective contexts in which they both process, and with the highest good of the individual the community, and ultimately the Kosmos being considered in providing guidance, permit yourself to dream how this would play out, in contrast to what we see today……

Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961), the great Austrian physicist, won the Nobel Prize in 1933 for his discovery of wave mechanics, and was a notable commentator on the disappointment of the track record of Western religions.  For those who have entered onto the “conveyor belt” of religion at an early age, we know that exposure to the dogma begins with morality tales and fairy tales that are well aligned to the child’s spiritual, cognitive, moral, and emotional levels.  The egocentric belief that God, or the Holy Figure, is someone to whom supplications and prayers for personal achievement can be addressed.  Unfortunately, many people do not develop/evolve spiritually or cognitively beyond these levels.

For those who do evolve developmentally to a more inclusive and wide-ranging understanding of religious adherence, they tend to adhere to the Golden Rule, caring for the sick and poor, and loving one’s neighbors and one’s enemies.  The limitations exist at an ethnocentric level, where homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, distrust in governmental institutions and profound ignorance of science limit the possibilities of worldcentric care.

The young today, research has shown, see all religion as characterized by intolerance, hypocrisy, homophobia, and judgmentalism.  They would rather walk away from religion than squeeze themselves into this narrowing cocoon.  Where are the pointing-out instructions to the Transcendant, to the Ultimate, to the Reality about which we intuit?  Where is the Love for ALL?  To What or to Whom can we turn for heart/mind guidance?  Some would rather throw it all away, this natural human function.  Even the religious institutions seem to have thrown away their historic role in healing body/mind/spirit in lieu of fighting political/cultural wars. 

Our Integral Ministers will return to the great Wisdom Traditions as well as to the great scientific advances of today and of the future.  They will carefully assess the psycho-spiritual level of those who seek their guidance and then provide them with a developmentally appropriate path along the sacred conveyor belt, with additions of appropriate “sweet spot” disorienting dilemmas, as koans for each individual’s next step. Within that sacred journey, we will no longer doubt that this human life is precious beyond meaning.

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