Memes Teach Human Religion and Spirituality: Humility

This past week, two cultural memes got their time in the public spotlight. One of them was new and one was a generation old. I’m speaking about The Dress and the fictional planet named “Vulcan.” Both of these memes teach us something about real human spirituality, politics and relationship. Please let me explain.

Pictures of this dress and what color was visible was very popular on social media.

Pictures of this dress and the discussion of what color was visible was very popular on social media.

At the end of February 2015 the social media world was sending lots of messages discussing the color of a dress. (1) Was it gold and white, or blue and black? The bottom line was that different people saw the same picture and described the scene differently. Apparently, our sense of sight is as unique as our physical appearance. But that is nothing new. Scientists have known that all our senses gather different inputs and our brains process the signals differently for all our senses. We all taste foods differently. (2) We all smell differently. (3) Just like our DNA and fingerprints, our sensory inputs and processing produce a unique result for every person. This is nothing more than the physical manifestation of the law of entropy, which says the physical world seeks diversity in all things. (4) But isn’t it also true for the spiritual world?

During a radio interview hosted my good friend, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, I made the statement that we all have a unique “sense of God in the world.” Every culture of humans has developed their own definition of God and a worldview to describe our relationship to the world and spiritual things around us. Some of us “relate to God (or not)” as theists, as polytheists, as deists, as pantheists, as panentheists, as atheists, or some as agnostics. But even within each of these “camps” there is a vast set of beliefs and understandings. Even within each denomination there are many differences. Even my own theological background of Christianity will show over 1,500 variations. Every one of these variations will claim “truth” and each seeks to be “right.” So who is right? Or is that a question that has a “right answer?”

The Vulcan "IDIC" or Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

The Vulcan “IDIC” or Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

Before we answer that question let’s look at the second cultural meme that got lots of attention last week. The Baby Boomer generation lost a cultural icon with the death of actor and producer Leonard Nimoy. He is best known for his role as the alien character “Spock” on the 1960’s television show “Star Trek.” Spock was from the planet Vulcan which contained a culture of humanoids that mastered their feelings and looked to science as a worldview. During one episode Spock wore this pin on his uniform. This is the IDIC pin which represented the “philosophy” of the planet Vulcan. IDIC stood for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” Their worldview was that the universe had such a large number of scientific variables that everything and every life was unique. When I recently mentioned this to my fellow military chaplains, I was reminded that this was a “fable religion.” But is it?

I recently read that “belief is an emotional activity.” We see this in religion and in politics. One of the first lessons from my first theology class was that “people will believe the most outrageous things for social acceptance and standing.” The point was that acceptance by our “tribe” was more important than the “truth.” We see this in the symbols and the “labels” that we choose to identify with so that our life has meaning, purpose and validation. Robert Sapolsky recently wrote in his column about the strange scientific power that we humans place on symbols. (5) We humans are able to get “feel good” chemical changes in our bodies from “symbols” that we place great meaning to. As a former military member I knew the stories of soldiers who willingly died defending a colored piece of cloth called a “unit flag.” But it is in religion that we really see symbols with impact. They can be religious symbols such as ancient sacred texts like the Bible, Torah or Qur’an, or as recent as the book by Brother Dr. Wayne Teasdale called “The Mystic Heart.” They can be icons of a saint or a savior. They can be in rites like the Eucharist or the water of baptism. They can be the name of the divine written in an ancient language or in words spoken aloud. They can be in the practice of reading, or in sitting still in silence studying our breath. When we couple these symbols of material things or practice with real social acceptance and community we have a powerful combination. If you add power and money then it becomes very dangerous. It is a combination that we are willing to kill for and “defend.”

So now I go back to the question of “whose worldview is right?” If we accept that every human has a unique set of sensory organs that allow them to gather information that they experience, and that this includes the ability to sense the divine and/or transcendent nature of their own life to the world around them, then perhaps everyone is right. For the worldviews that acknowledge a third-person spiritual force that is infinite, then how can we say that there is only one way for us very limited humans to sense or know it? I go back to one of Rami Shapiro’s most profound comments, “The moment we humans think we know God, is the moment we have made ourselves bigger than God.” Humility that springs from an understanding of our limitations of our earthly bodies is a must for every human. Respect for the uniqueness of the human condition is a maturity we can all seek.


Big I Conference 2015 “Ministered for the Earth” and More!

BigI2015-logo-narrow-borderThe Big I Conference for Inclusive Theology, Spirituality and Consciousness for 2015 was held earlier this month in the San Francisco Bay area.  It brought together an incredible group of generous, talented and dynamic individuals to share their practical and inspiring wisdom on the theme of “Ministering for the Earth: Healing the Heart of the Planet.”  Eco-ministry, Eco-justice and connecting our spirituality to the energies of the world around us were topics that filled the hands, hearts and minds of all who were there.  Today’s post offers a brief visual overview of Big I Conference 2015… please stay tuned for more articles and detailed posts sharing more of the important and valuable content those of us who were fortunate enough to attend heard and participated in. As you will see this year’s conference offered experiential and participatory workshop content in addition to the TED-talk style sharing.  Click HERE to see the 2015 Big I Conference program.

BigI 2015 was held at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA

BigI 2015 was held at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA

Jeff Firewalker, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Mac Legerton and Tim Miner

Jeff Firewalker, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Mac Legerton and Tim Miner


Tom Thresher, Vicki Garlock & Alex Warden

Megan Wagner & family

Megan Wagner & family and Miranda Macpherson

Rick Clugston, Steven Greenebaum and Lee Van Ham

Rick Clugston, Steven Greenebaum and Lee Van Ham

Megan Wagner's Living Temple Project

Megan Wagner’s Living Temple Project

OUnI Ordination at the Big I 2015

OUnI Ordination at the Big I 2015

On Saturday night John Mabry & other friends from the Chaplaincy Institute and Grace North Church provided beautiful music and an indoor labyrinth!

On Saturday night John Mabry & other friends from the Chaplaincy Institute and Grace North Church provided beautiful music and an indoor labyrinth!

David Mitchell, Theodore Richards, Amy Edelstein and JoAnn Barrett

David Mitchell, Theodore Richards, Amy Edelstein and JoAnn Barrett

We closed Big I 2015 with a Puja offered by Swami Ramananda with Jeff Firewalker

We closed Big I 2015 with a Puja offered by Swami Ramananda with Jeff Firewalker

Big I Closing Ceremony Altar

Big I Closing Ceremony Altar

Big I 2016 is already being planned… we hope to see you there!

Registration is Open for Big I 2015!


It is time to register for the BIG I Conference 2015 and it is especially important if you want to participate in the OUnI co-ordination/ordination ceremony.  The Order of Universal Interfaith has only one hard rule and that is to complete the process of becoming a fully vetted and voting member of the organization that all who apply must go through a public ceremony.  The BIG I Conference is a great chance to have that happen.

For the first time, The Big I is heading to the West Coast!!!  We’ve planned another collaborative conversation and celebration of inclusive theology, spirituality and consciousness with the overarching theme of ministering to the planet and ourselves through our Interfaith-Interspiritual-Integral-Independent values.  We believe that our greatest strength is to produce LEADERS for the future and this conference is designed to do just that.

Punctuating World Interfaith Harmony Week, the Big I 2015 will take place Feb. 6-8, 2015 in the San Francisco Bay Area (Mercy Center, Burlingame, CA – 20 min south of San Francisco, 10 min from the SFO airport).

The theme for this year’s Big I is

This theme is about HEALING:  Healing the planet through an evolving eco-ministry presence, healing the gap between the religions of the world, and healing the individuals who are suffering and healing all living beings.  How does your calling help the healing in and of this world?

Come taste the great spiritual transformation through eco-ministry happening across this country and around the globe.  Gather with fellow seekers as we deepen our understanding of what is happening, why it is happening, and how we can participate and help insure that this is an awakening of spirit that honors all beings. The Big I is a community that prefers questions to creeds, doubt to dogma, and a willingness cross the boundaries separating religion, science, and the arts in order to explore the wisdom of humanity to which each of us is heir. We hope to see you in California in February!

So often in the Big I movement, we are asked to speak from our heads – to define, defend, or demonstrate the why of what we believe, and the how of what we do.  Paradoxically, we all know that the what-why-how originates from the heart.  At our gathering in February, we envision a time of sharing and growing together more consciously by embodying the Interfaith-InterSpiritual-Integral-Independent Rites, Rituals and Ceremonies.

Big I presentations happen in the “TED Talk” format of 18 minutes, with a period of Q&A to follow.  Big I workshops happen in a 1.25 hour format.  Beginning Friday afternoon, February 6th and running rough Sunday morning, February 8th the Big I will host a series of presentations and workshops that will prepare us all to be LEADERS of the global eco-consciousness.

What will this look like?  LEARN BY DOING a new practice, a ritual, an embodied understanding of another Path that others share with us?  LEARN BY HEARING special ideas or best practices that helps us heal or minister to individuals as we connect them to the planet as a spiritual whole. BE MOTIVATED BY VISIONING with panel discussions that helps us present a new idea or further our movement’s contribution to eco-ministry or healing.

Please take the time to register for YOUR place at this critical conference for our entire movement.


Thank you,

Big I Conference planning committee
Rev. Claire Frances Goodman, OUnI;
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, OUnI;
Rev. Tim Miner, OUnI;
Rev. Lauren Van Ham, OUnI representing the Chaplaincy Institute of Berkeley

Please contact the Big I Conference Coordinator at

Phone Apps for Interfaith Ministers

As Interfaith Ministers in the world today we have so many incredible resources at our fingertips. Here is a small selection of mobile apps (some free, some cost a small amount) that we might employ in our service to the world. Please let us know in the comments section below if you’ve discovered other apps you find useful in your ministry.


These apps can be obtained through the Apple App Store or equivalent for your particular device (Android, etc.).

September 2014 OUnI Ordination

OUnI Vice Secretary General Sw. Shraddhananda ordained three new ministers into the Order of Universal Interfaith at the Garrison Institute in September of 2014… they are Rev. Wilfredo Svetambar Baez, Rev. Charles Semowich, and Rev. Sandra Chamatkara Mangham.

New Seminary Master of Theological Studies students Jennifer Krall and Jill Cline assisted Sw. Shraddhananda with the ordination.




Congratulations to OUnI’s newest Interfaith Interspiritual Ministers!

Ratification Election of OUnI Governing Documents


This year our legal counsel, Rev. Marie Lucca, OUnI, drafted new documents to refile with the Washington, District of Columbia, USA, government and with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States. These documents assist us in complying with language changes mandated by the IRS for our status as a religious 501(c)(3) charity.


PLEASE CLICK HERE AND VOTE FOR OR AGAINST THE DOCUMENTS. The motion to deny the change requires over 1/3 of the ordained/co-ordained clergy to vote “NO”. Please vote even if you want to make the change by voting “YES”.

Take a moment to review the new draft documents HERE… then click the button below and vote…



Thank you for your support of OUnI and our movement.

Eco-Chaplaincy: Creating and Tending our NEW story

GUEST POST BY: Rev. Lauren Van Ham, M.A., OUnI (from her presentation at the Big I Conference 2014)

I call myself an Eco-chaplain. Briefly, in this post, I want to describe what this means and, more importantly, I want to invite you to join me in the work of eco-chaplaincy.

First, what’s an Eco-chaplain?

Chaplains are trained to shed light on the spiritual, in what might otherwise be secular surroundings. My work as a chaplain has challenged me to look for the Divine within the complexity of hospitals, pysch units, corporate America and most recently, a space that’s too vast to name: it is the place where our planet home and human behavior intersect.

Eco chaplaincyChaplains, it turns out, are also asked to find words for the unsavory parts of a story and here’s the deal: the pop-story we’ve been told is that we need to save the planet.

But we already know that with or without Her natural resources, this third rock from the sun will continue spinning in our solar system, exquisitely held in the Milky Way galaxy – one galaxy in a TRILLION others. Quick note: How amazing is that?

SO, really, the more accurate story is that we need to save life. Today…

  •  Just under 61% of workers in the developing world still live on less than $4 a day
  •  Indigenous cultures are in decline all over the world
  •  200 species go extinct everyday — 1000 times the normal rate
  •  At this moment, around the world, humans are fighting 9 major wars (1000+ fatalities/yr) and 25 other conflicts (<1000 fatalities/yr)

And RIGHT NOW, on this spinning mass of interconnected bio-diversity it is ONE species, one tiny genus in the mammal family – the humans! – whose current behaviors and choices, whose systems and policies are creating system-wide suicide.

Eco EgoSo, in truth, the “Eco” in Eco-Chaplain is less and less about the Ecology of our planet and evermore urgently about the Ecology of ourselves and the inter-dependent relationships with our fellow species.

To live, teach and to tend a new, life-sustaining story is Eco-chaplaincy. We have before us, an act of midwifery, wrought with joy and pain. It requires steady, sustained spiritual practice and here’s the REALLY important part: it’s only going to work if we all share the story.

I’m going to highlight a three-fold practice I’ve found to be helpful as I tend the plot. The practices are somewhat cyclical, and I share them with you to encourage own eco-chaplain practices:

Practice One: This is a Love story! Build Intimacy

John and YokoSometimes I think humans and the planet need a good marriage counselor. Have you noticed, when under the seduction of your email inbox, or checking stock quotes, or tackling a full to-do list, how easy it is to divorce ourselves from how simply blessed we are? And worse, how easy it is to begin blaming others for what isn’t working? In these moments, remembering love is a our salvation!

Recall the last time you consciously brought yourself to be with the person, the job, the pet, the HOME you so desperately did not want to lose! When I move from my love, I find the courage to become more intimate with that which was previously the target of my outrage and blame.

Practice Two: We’re all protagonists in this story. Begin Again. Tell it Like it Is

begin againThis story is NOT about recycling. Don’t get me wrong, the “Going Green” movement of 2007 began an important chapter in our new story. But driving a Prius is NOT enough, and neither is riding a bike. Our growth economy model is broken.

Many of us are afraid that giving up certain things will mean scarcity and lack. Many of us are dubious about change and innovation and trying new ways to create safer, saner ways of consuming what we need without hurting ourselves and future generations.

Reinventing our economy and other systems will take coaches, visionaries, career counselors, bereavement specialists, and lots and lots of chaplains!!! We’re the ones who begin again and tell it like it is. The script might well be, “I know this is scary and SO disappointing. I believe that slowly, carefully we can undergo this together and transform it. We will learn something valuable. Will you stay in this with me?”

Would you like to try it? Really, read it again, and this time aloud, and consider how you can say something to this effect the next time you’re engaging in the tough conversations about the changes we need to make, in order to save life on our planet:

I know this is scary and SO disappointing. I believe that slowly, carefully we can undergo this and together, we can transform it. We will learn something valuable. Will you stay in this with me?

Practice Three: Play. Use your voice. Express Yourself

bumper stickers

Lauren’s vision board 2014

Our new story is rooted in Regenerative Humility. Contrary to the rhythms and patterns popularly employed in our culture, we are not on and off switches. With care and practice, with support from our communities, we can source from a place that’s regenerative. I call it God — it’s the place where the inner Prophet and inner Mystic live.

climate ride

Climate Ride across Nebraska, May 2014 (Lauren Van Ham)

Recently, to raise climate change awareness in the Midwest (an area of the U.S, often left-out of the conversation), I rode my bike across the state of Nebraska. Pedaling through the breath-taking sandhills, I rode 57 WINDY miles with Thomas, a devout conservationist and professed atheist. When I told him why I was riding, his words were, “There is no hope.”

Perhaps Thomas is right. The Western Shelf of Antarctica is falling to sea and new fires are burning every day in the Southwest. Regenerative Humility puts less of my interest on changing the world, and more attention on how the world changes me.


Photo credit: David Adair

It keeps me curious, and forces intimacy. It frees me to move and act without the guarantee of success.

My friends, we are mammals, human mammals who create. Our life depends on it. WHAT we create is part of the story we’re reconstructing. I have no clue how this story ends; what I do know is that I’m not the only Eco-chaplain.

There are LOTS of us, prophets and mystics. And the Divine is ready for each one of our co-creative acts to set the story back on course.


Lauren-VanHam-175x262Guest Author: Rev. Lauren Van Ham, M.A., OUnI: Dean, Interfaith Studies and Core Faculty at The Chaplaincy Institute. Rev. Lauren Van Ham, was ordained with the first cohort of ChI ordinands in 1999 and completed the Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Course in 2006. Before joining the ChI staff in 2010, Lauren served for eight years, as a staff chaplain at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco. From there, she moved to a corporate environment, where she custom-designed employee programs for multi-national companies committed to sustainability and culture change. As part of her evolving call and commitment to “eco-chaplaincy”, Lauren served as Executive Director for Green Sangha (a non-profit dedicated to spiritually-engaged environmental activism) from 2004-2006 and currently chairs Fair Trade Berkeley, a group whose dedication helped make Berkeley the 19th Fair Trade Town in the U.S. Lauren holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, and Naropa University.  Lauren, along with fellow ChI faculty, was co-ordained into OUnI at the Big I Conference in 2013 and at the conference in 2014 was ordained as one of the first 10 Eco-Ministers.  She also currently serves on the OUnI Board of Directors.

5 Important Interfaith / Interspiritual / Interreligious Journals not to miss!

We hope you’ll find this small selection of great publications a helpful resource in your service to the world!


The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies

The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies is a forum for academic, social, and timely issues affecting religious communities around the world. Published online, it is designed to increase both the quality and frequency of interchanges between religious groups and their leaders and scholars. By fostering communication, the Journal hopes to contribute to a more tolerant, pluralistic society.

The Interfaith Observer

The Interfaith Observer (TIO), launched on September 15, 2011, is a free monthly electronic journal created to explore interreligious relations and the interfaith movement as a whole. It provides historical perspectives, surveys current interfaith news, profiles major stakeholders, and otherwise provides maps and sign-posts for the different sectors of an emerging interfaith culture. It offers a context to explore and respond to the new religious world around us. TIO is designed as a resource for the general reader

Interreligious Insight: a journal of dialogue and engagement

Interreligious Insight is published 4 times a year by the World Congress of Faiths, Common Ground and the Interreligious Engagement Project.  As a shared venture between three interfaith groups, it aims to transcend narrow interests by providing a platform for reflecting with passion on many of the critical issues facing our world.

Kosmos: Co-Creating the New Civilization

Kosmos is available in both digital and print formats. Their mission is to inform, inspire and engage individual and collective participation in a global shift that reconnects the objective world of global realities with the inner world of humanity’s highest principles: compassion, integrity, wisdom, and sharing. Spirituality, Economics, Governance, Law, Media and Business are some of this journal’s focuses.-

Tikkun: to heal, repair and transform the world.

Tikkun is a magazine dedicated to healing and transforming the world. It seeks writing that gives insight on how to make that utopian vision a reality. They build bridges between religious and secular progressives by delivering a forceful critique of all forms of exploitation, oppression, and domination while nurturing an interfaith vision of a caring society — one whose institutions are reconstructed on the basis of love, generosity, nonviolence, social justice, caring for nature, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe. Tikkun brings together progressive Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, secular humanist, and agnostic/atheist voices to talk about social transformation and strategies for political and economic democratization. Founding Editor Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Toward an Interfaith Philosophy in the Modern World

TheodoreR-150x161Guest Post by Theodore Richards, a poet, writer, and religious philosopher. He has received degrees from various institutions, including the University of Chicago. He is the author of Handprints on the Womb, a collection of poetry; Cosmosophia: Cosmology, Mysticism, and the Birth of a New Myth, recipient of the Independent Publisher Awards Gold Medal in religion and the Nautilus Book Awards Gold Medal; the novel The Crucifixion, recipient of the Independent Publisher Awards bronze medal and the USA Book Award; and Creatively Maladjusted: The Wisdom Education Movement Manifesto, finalist for the USA Book Award. Theodore Richards is the founder of The Chicago Wisdom Project and teaches world religions at The New Seminary. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughters.

Presented at The Big I Conference, Nashville, TN – 2012

The Interfaith Movement at the Moment of Apocalypse:
Toward an Interfaith Philosophy in the Modern World


One of the great challenges for anyone active in the interfaith movement is how to articulate what it is all about. Generally speaking, interfaith groups fall into one of two categories—both of which, we shall see, are somewhat dissatisfying to the spiritual seeker, philosopher, or mystic.

When the interfaith movement began, it was a wonderful, beautiful, radical idea. It still is. But we are in need of going deeper. There is a risk that in claiming to be all things interfaith ends up mired in superficiality. In this essay, I will make an argument for what I see as the crucial role of the interfaith movement at this moment in history.


Part of the beauty of a movement like interfaith is its diversity. I’ve noticed that the term means something slightly different to everyone. As a way of talking about the subject, I have created some general categories. These are not meant to be definitive, but to provide a means of having a discussion about how one might speak about interfaith meaningfully.

The first category I would describe as secular. Groups in this category are interested in dialogue across faiths, but not in the depth of these faiths. Common ground is found, but only in secular areas.  The interfaith minister will often—quite rightly, in many cases—employ this approach in offering a service or compassion to someone whose beliefs they cannot abide—the fundamentalist, for example. Generally, this group is wary of interfaith groups or philosophies that claim to find any spiritual unity or ultimate truth across faiths. Interfaith seminaries have frequently fallen into this category with their emphasis on ministering uncritically to those from various faith traditions. But most frequently this category can be associated with various interfaith organization which attempt to foster religious tolerance.

The second category holds that there is indeed a spiritual connection between the faith traditions. But whereas the first group is often far too intellectual, the second tends to be anti-intellectual.  I call them New Age Fundamentalists, because, like fundamentalists of the great faiths, they reduce the answer to every question to a simple phrase, rejecting the beautiful, chaotic diversity of our religious world.  Moreover, the soul—ie, the isolated, Cartesian soul—not the world, is the focus. There is a certain self-indulgence in this approach, a fixation on healing the soul, a soul that is entirely apart from what is happening in the world.

The most of obvious critique of the secular interfaith movement ironically comes from the very group that birthed it: academia. Most academics rightly criticize the anti-intellectualism and cultural appropriation of the New Age Fundamentalist. In doing so, they ignore what their own scholarship tells us about the nature of religion: that our religions have never been static and isolated. There has always been an effort to integrate the philosophies of various traditions. One needs only to look at the syncretism of African religions and Christianity in the New World; or the blending of Greek and Jewish traditions at the birth of Christianity; or the integration of northern European traditions and Christianity as it spread across Europe; or the Taoist and Confucian influence on Zen; or the Hindu influence on Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Indian Islam. I could go on.

At the same time, reducing the world’s religion to oversimplified platitudes often reflects a poor understanding. To be an adherent of a faith means more than liking a couple of ideas, more than changing one’s clothes. It means inhabiting a new world. To have any clear understanding of how the world’s religions truly do reflect a shared, integral wisdom—not to mention avoiding a shallow and offensive appropriation—we must understand the underlying cosmology, the essential context in which they arise.


Each group, while seemingly quite different, actually reflects the same worldview—that is, the fragmentation, literalism, and individualism of the Modernity. The first group is fragmented and literal in keeping with the Western intellectual tradition. Each religion is distinct and separate and we should keep it that way, the logic goes. The second, while appearing to reject Modernity—again, this is just like the fundamentalist—actually retains the core values of the Modern industrial world: the distinct, separate, isolated individual. The soul, in this approach, is entirely separate from the world. In each case, the Modern industrial world’s core assumptions are retained: that each religion, each individual, is separate and distinct from one another.

Why does it matter? While admitting that there are benefits to the Modern worldview as in every cultural paradigm, this one is coming to an end. This apocalypse, like others before it, must involve a reimagining of the relationship between the human and the world that is our home. The question for humanity at this moment is how this end is going to come about. Globalization and industrial capitalism have brought us wealth and inequality, unprecedented individual rights and unprecedented destruction of the natural world. Will its end come with horrific death and destruction that seems imminent with global warming? Perhaps this is unavoidable. Certainly history has taught us that loss and despair will change one’s way of relating to the world. But perhaps we can, in the midst of the despair that is surely a part of life, come to a richer, more enchanted, more meaningful worldview, one that allows us to participate in the rich tapestry of nature and humanity’s diversity.

The interfaith movement can participate in this paradigm shift in several ways.

  • First, we can reject the fragmentation of modernity in embracing the paradoxical nature of existence.  To do this we must connect to the mystical elements of religion and to the nature-based traditions.  The answer to the question of “what is interfaith?” cannot be found in avoiding the difficult questions. Our religious traditions are at once deeply interconnected and wildly diverse.
  • Second, we must understand the cosmologies and worldviews—that is, how a culture sees the relationship between the individual and the whole or the divine—of the spiritual traditions in order to find a deeper, more authentic connection among them. While I do advocate an integral spirituality that sees where the religions interconnect, we must be careful to take a rigorous approach that acknowledges their genuine differences.
  • Third, we must embrace the insights of science, especially those that call into question the assumptions made in the Modern world.
  • Fourth, we must express the new insights we have through creativity and imagination.  For it is the mythic, not the logical—the Greeks would have called this mythos as opposed to logos—that expresses the core values of a culture.[1]


When we study the world’s religions, we often spend a great deal of time on the various doctrines of the faiths. These are, of course, important. But we perhaps give them an undue amount of our focus. Modernity has taught us that facts are the most important thing. In fact, when it comes to religion, it is the story that is most important. Indeed, no religious tradition is without a myth. And it is the myth that invites us to participate in that reality, connecting our individual story to the greater one. The mythic is what brings the doctrine alive.The myth is how the values of a tradition or culture are conveyed. I would argue that interfaith as a way of seeing the world can be a part of the basis for a new myth. That is, the values of the interfaith movement speak to a world that is not fragmented, a world in which we can hold the paradox of two seemingly contradictory facts. If Modernity is marked by fragmentation and either-or logic, the interfaith movement is marked by integration and both-and, paradoxical thinking.

Additionally, interfaith movements can and must uphold certain values that speak to the specific struggles of this moment. I would describe these values as “cosmo-centric”, that is, values that connect us more deeply to the rhythms of the earth, to the story of the universe, to our selves as expressions of the cosmos.[2]

Moreover, we are each participating in the telling of this new myth as we tell our own stories. No individual can create the new myth. It comes together as a tapestry, a story made up of stories woven together. It is unlikely that a new myth will come from the elites alone. The wisdom of the margins is required.[3]

Cosmosophia-Temp-Cover-194x300This integration of a new story is how a new cosmology comes forth. In today’s world, I believe that this new cosmology must integrate the insights of modern science the wisdom of our mystical and philosophical traditions. Whereas the myth of Modernity was based on the notion of the universe as a machine, the new myth must be of a sacred, organic universe. Whereas the myth of Modernity was based on a fragmented world in which each of us is independent, the new myth must teach us that we are interconnected. In Cosmosophia: Cosmology, Mysticism, and the Birth of a New Myth, I describe the fundamental metaphor to build from is that of the universe as our womb, and its unfolding a process of continual birthing.[4] This is the work of the mythmaker, the poet, the artist.

This is what Thomas Berry calls our “Great Work”.[5] It is the task of mythmaking, of worldmaking, the most fundamental act of our humanity. The most ancient artwork, the cave paintings, reflected this: our ancestors, when they painted handprints on the walls of the cave, understood that we are always at the edge of our world, our womb, creating meaning.

These ancient paintings also commonly depict the relationship of predator and prey, the ecological reality that our ancestors deeply felt, that we have largely forgotten. Far from the rugged individualists that Modernity would have us to be, we are ecological beings, deeply interconnected to a community of living beings. The great predators from which we fled and the prey we chased on the African plain shaped our minds and our bodies, our communities and our stories.

The interfaith movement has always appreciated the desire for cultural diversity. But often it has lacked a real articulation of why diversity is so important. The importance of diversity—and of difference—is a lesson that ecology teaches us well. Whereas a loss of genetic diversity leaves gaps in the ecosystem that may not be filled, the loss of cultural diversity—for example, the loss of a spiritual tradition, a language, a culture—leaves us with a gap in the cultural ecosystem. Just as the loss of the wolf leaves the ecosystem imbalanced, so to does the loss of, say, feminist theology to provide a balance to patriarchy. This is only one example. We simply cannot say what kinds of worldviews might provide us with potential answers to the challenges our species faces. Just as a loss of genetic diversity leaves a species subject to disease, without a diversity of perspectives humnaity might not survive.[6]


Introduced at the right moment, a mere idea can become a movement.   I believe that this is just such a time for interfaith.  This moment—Modernity—is marked by many things that are coming to an end: fossil-fuel-based industry, individualism, capitalism, imperialism.  But above all else, this moment is about a loss of meaning, emptiness.  But this void is pregnant.  Apocalypse, after all, means “unveiling.”  We have the opportunity to make new worlds of meaning, and I believe that the Interfaith Movement is well placed to influence this process. Of the four suggestions above, it is the creative and imaginal which are most important. We must give birth, through our imaginative capacities, to a world in which spirituality, paradoxically, can represent the beautiful, chaotic diversity of human and be a source of our ultimate unity.

[1] For more on the mythos/logos dichotomy in the history of theological thought, see Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (Anchor, 2010)
[2] More on this can be found at HERE.
[3] This is the work of the Chicago Wisdom Project
[4] Theodore Richards, Cosmosophia: Cosmology, Mysticism, and the Birth of a New Myth (Danvers, MA: Hiraeth Press, 2011)
[5] Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way into the future (Broadway, 2000)
[6] More on this topic can be found in my article “An Ecology of Interfaith: A Biological Argument for the Necessity of Diversity