Meet the Post-Progressive Religionist
and: Why Do I Wear Minister's Robes?
Who is the Audience for my Ministry?, Part 1
To whom should I address this article, one of the first published on my new Integral Ministry blog and the recently overhauled The Integralist Newsletter? There are three different audiences I want to speak to over time:
Today, I am addressing a group that I call the Post-Progressives, people who are finding themselves having outgrown their progressive religious organization and/or groups devoted to interfaith dialogue.
On December 30, I will speak to Evolutionaries who include “spiritual but not religious” people who are finding themselves on a personal path of growth in consciousness which has put them out of step with the New Age community.
And on January 6, I will welcome Metamodernists, who tend to be more secular-minded people who are concerned about overcoming the detriments of postmodernism.
The Post-Progressive Religionist
If you are a Post-Progressive religionist, then you have recently been involved with or committed to a progressive church, sangha, temple, or other spiritual organization. Whether you were a progressive Christian fighting for your theological life in a conservative church or a Unitarian Universalist (where the progressivism is already baked into the cake), you had at least one thing in common: you took a progressive or postmodern approach to faith.
Let’s use some of Steve McIntosh’s broad terminology for stages of consciousness. Superseded were religious justifications for war or jihad of Warrior religions. Superseded were the stale doctrines and orthodoxies of Traditional religions. Superseded were the cold rationalism or prosperity Gospels of Modernist religions. And superseded — just barely — was your faith in the Gospel of liberation politics which had so infused your Postmodern or Progressive religion that perhaps it became all-important. Liberation theology with its focus on feminism and racial justice (among other things) colored your interpretations of scripture, your church services, and your spirituality.
Progressive religion was good for you while it lasted, you suppose, but you hungered for a fuller truth. Like politics, religion came with theological differences along a spectrum of left, right, and center. It came with a yellow as glorious as the midday sun or a teal seemingly as wide and spacious as the ocean. You were ready for a leap of faith that somehow you could still work for justice, peace, and love… but still embrace a Bigger Picture. And so now you felt your spirituality was “none of the above”: it had landed on a higher ground.
The Post-Progressive Post defines some of the Post-Progressive position in politics like this:
Our perspective is post-progressive, which transcends progressivism’s downsides, while carrying forward its important upsides.
We advocate cultural intelligence, which integrates values from across the political spectrum.
Our strategy is to foster cultural evolution by showing how America can grow into a better version of itself.
Something very similar can be said about post-progressive religion. There is a “spiritual intelligence” which is one part of what McIntosh calls “cultural intelligence” and something we might call “social intelligence” as well. This intelligence is an active one which guides you to become a better version of yourself and thereby serve as a model for the Church or Spiritual Communion.
Just as the Post-Progressive Alliance is working to pave a new path forward for American politics, an as-of-yet unnamed group of people are working to create a New Path Forward in religion. I will usually call them Integral Metamodern (IM) folks in this newsletter and in my blogs. We’re not exactly a new religion, we’re some sort of “religion that’s not a religion”.
I do not want to unintentionally convey the impression that Post-Progressives such as yourself are primarily concerned about politics over religion, which isn’t necessarily the case at all. Your outgrowing of a synagogue’s or sangha’s politics is typically an outgrowth of your outgrowing the group’s spiritual teachings.
This is how the eminent developmental psychologist Dr. James Fowler saw the faith of people who are at a Post-Progressive stage:
The emergence of Stage 5 is something like:
Realizing that the behavior of light requires that it be understood both as a wave phenomenon and in particles of energy.
Discovering that the rational solution or “explanation” of a problem that seemed so elegant is but a painted canvas covering an intricate, endlessly intriguing cavern of surprising depth.
Looking at a field of flowers simultaneously through a microscope and a wide-angle lens…
I think what these examples suggest is that people such as yourself who are growing into advanced (Stage 5 and beyond) stages of faith are beginning to see paradoxes in your ordinary life, gaining insight into contexts and construct for things that previously eluded them, and even gaining the ability to zoom in and zoom out of particular contexts and constructs. (For more information on stages of faith, see my “Who is the God of the Integralists?” or Corey DeVos and Ryan Oelke’s “Inhabit: Your Inner Theatre.”)
In this newsletter or in my blog posts, I may sometimes speak of you as Post-Progressives. As I see it, at least at this point in your life, you are religionists who are working to move beyond liberation theology’s limitations while carrying forward everything progressivism speaks that is Good, True, and Beautiful.
You are the first audience that I want to address in my ministry. Let me officially announce that Post-Progressives are embraced and welcomed and affirmed in all aspects of my ministry. When you think that your church or spiritual community refuses to allow you to grow into who you are meant to become, I hope that you can always find a refuge in the Integral Metamodern community.
Why Do I Wear Minister’s Robes?
Henry David Thoreau famously said, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
Perhaps Thoreau would have not have approved of something I feel that I must do. I am going to acquire new clothing specifically designed for clergy, and then establish rules for myself about how, when, and where to wear them.
It’s a big small step, an outward manifestation of my decision to become an ordained Integral Minister. It puts me in the line of Christian ministers at least from 1215, when the Fourth Lateran Council required clergy to wear dress that sets them apart from the laity. And many other traditions in every world religion. There is an implicit ecclesiology, however subtle, in my decision.
Clothing has a sort of magical ability to change the wearer’s attitude and the perceptions of the people they interact with. Doctors wear scrubs for hygiene and other good reasons. Police officers wear blue uniforms so people recognize their authority. Studies have shown that lab techs in scientific laboratories make fewer mistakes if they wear a white coat. There is an implicit magical talisman, however subtle, in my decision.
So, when I choose to don ministerial garments, I’m not merely motivated by many pragmatic reasons. I haven’t worn them yet. I’ve just shopped for them and placed a couple of orders tonight.
I haven’t needed a minister’s uniform before now, but then again I haven’t taken ministry as seriously as I ought to have. There’s no Catholic abott to bade me, no Zen shike to enforce a code. I have to internalize the authority that isn’t there. There is a real Integral Metamodern community, but it is somewhat inchoate and not well-organized.
I’m not sure how exactly to go about this, but I feel that I must do what I can. Making internal spiritual transformation happen is hard, and changing ingrained habits that have set in over decades is hard. All I have to do is put on a piece of cloth, right? Should be a piece of cake.
Shopping for the minister’s garments was interesting. I was not limited in my search by Christian denomination nor even by religion. I knew of no precedents among Integral Ministers that I felt obligated to follow. And I knew that I didn’t want to spend a lot of money unless that was the only way to get the right uniform.
I decided to purchase two uniforms. One is a unisex Daoist Cheongsam suit advertised as a martial arts uniform. When worn with rolled cuffs, it looks sporty and can be worn during my Tai Chi.
The second uniform is called a Plymouth clergy robe. It’s sorta a generic pleated robe with a black matte finish, basically a typical Protestant minister’s garment. I think it might look good for a stroll out on the city streets, but at this point in time I’m concerned of what people will think.
I don’t know if these uniforms will look as sharp when I open the package as they do on the internet site, but they are my choices. Maybe I’ll keep both or perhaps I’ll send one back. The purchases are an experiment, and I anticipate needing to see if they fit well (emotionally as well as physically). I’ll try them out in different situations and see how they help me to adjust my state of mind and exude my inner state of being.
I wonder if Thoreau was right to warn us against risky enterprises. Maybe all this fuss is futile. Maybe it’s all just a mind game. Maybe I should send both the purchases back and give the money to charity.
Or maybe I’m right, and the enterprise that we really need to beware of is the enterprise we’re already doing that was once risky but has now grown so established in our nature that we’re not even aware of the risks we’re taking by not taking new risks.
Deep Conversations: What’s the Ecology of Institutions in “The Religion That’s Not a Religion”?
The Integralist Newsletter comes to you with podcasts that we’ve found that might be of interest to you. We don’t sponsor or endorse the podcast, but we have transcribed some of the dialogue.
This week we’re looking at “The Artful Scaling of the Religion that is not a religion, Part 1 (w/ John Vervaeke, Layman Pascal, & Brendan Graham Dempsey”, which you can find on John Vervaeke’s YouTube channel.
Note: The following transcript starts at 47:45 and runs for about 10 minutes.
Layman Pascal: I think we should come back to coherence and artistry and the things that might make a person stay “turned on” in a particular framing of the wisdom practices in order to get benefits from it. Two things that are coming up for me while you guys were talking. First, pluralizing the training and explaining problem is an interesting way to go because you have different practices that would be appropriate for different groups and differently amenable to them, and you have all types of different translations that have to go on when explaining. Explaining is relative to who’s hearing it and what the niche is. Maybe you want a very technical mechanical explanation, maybe you want a very poetic explanation. You obviously need some kind of elite which can manage plural trainings and plural explanations and the space between those things will hopefully be able to hold itself open and remain stable over time.
The other part of it is the problematic elements in a broader usage of the terms is that there needs to be some kind of verification process. Our bodies are constantly taking in things good for us and bad for us. We have an immune system, we have a verification and vetting process. How did the old world really handle the problem of doing this? Because it's not problematic necessarily that people are believing things that aren't technically correct. It's problematic if those things lead down the wrong pathways. Adjudicating between that, what did they use? Zen has this tradition of interviews where the master has to establish peer resonance with you and also to problematize your state change experiences for you. They have a lot of practices of social isolation, transgression, of situations that sort of took a person outside their normal social framing of reality. Many of those might have been obviously too ascetic in certain ways, they might have been damaging and unhealthy. If we go much farther back, we find a pattern of the ritual humiliation of political and religious leaders where there were things done to make fun of or take them outside of their context so we don't mistake what's going on in the local practical structure for some kind of reified status. And we could take all of those things and more because we could add a bigger list and we could add to them a temporary notion of a therapeutic adjunct to training.
John Vervaeke: That's very good. The topic of elites and the practices by which they did not become reified and deified. I think that's important. So, a connection I want to make to that is to deepen the problem: We had three interlocking institutions: the university, the monastery, and the church. And they were all trying to manage the training and explaining, and the elite versus the laity relationship. One of the functions of the Church was to presumably manage between the elites and the laity. The monastery concentrated a lot on training for wisdom and the university concentrated much more for explaining for knowledge in general. So you had knowledge, wisdom, and something maybe called a social integration, social cohesion thing. I'm wondering is that just happenstance. You can see similar things, even in the Zen monastery, the Zen temple, and then you have things like the Kyoto school where Zen is taken up in an academic setting and developed in powerful ways... Is that happenstance? Or have institutions to some degree somehow worked out an ecology of institutions in order to address the pedagogical pluralism problem, and the con/conveyor belt, and the explaining/training problem.
And does that mean that the "religion that's not a religion" would need something like that? Layman that's important because it means that we actually have kinds of elites, if I can put it that way, and they have... This sounds ridiculously American, but they have “checks and balances” relationships with one another as a way of managing some of the issues. Monasteries tend to hone people who are much more mystically oriented. The church was people who were much more missionary oriented. The university is much more people who were philosophically oriented. And they are all sort of acting as checks and balances on each other. They put terrific strain in the history of Christianity on the institution, but it seems to me that it's one of the ways that the old world religions ... addressed this problem. I'm trying to get back to Brendan's question: how do we structure this? And is it that each one of these things is doing different things? Maybe the church concentrates on narrative and maybe the monastery concentrates on something like transcendence and the university of course concentrates on theory...
Brendan Graham Dempsey: One of the things that's interesting about the American experiment historically is the way that the checks and balances system that you're talking about was implicit in the old world becomes explicit and made an object of awareness to be intentionally built-in. One of the things that does is a release valve, a built-in self-correcting mechanism. I wonder if, on the topic of whatever sorts of institutions, or institutional translations of this "religion that's not a religion", whatever those might be, one of the things that could be vital in how they do what they do, is if there's an understanding that these things are amenable to self-correction and transformation. Say, the difference between the American Constitution and a Hobbesian monarchical theory is the awareness that this is a construct. We put this together and there are built-in mechanisms to reinforce its self-preservation through adaptation and in the process it's really hard to take the President as seriously as the monarch because of this whole infrastructure built into it, self-aware that this isn't the whole thing. So, I wonder if similarly there's a way of both articulating narratologically or these ecologies of practices built into that maybe probably on the explanation side, which is where this caveat should lie, the map isn't the territory, the training isn't the reality, a notion that this is something that is constructed in order to do these things. If that is there, it kind of precludes or makes it less likely that people will reify these things as being objectively the case.
John Vervaeke: There could be a deep continuity between ecologies of practice and ecologies of institutions. The whole idea of ecologies of practice is to try to explicate something that I've seen in wisdom traditions where they set up a point of processing and complementary practices, so you get this self-complexification, a self-correcting ability. Making it explicit that we want an ecology of institutions to best implement ecologies of practices. Yeah, that strikes me as a plausible proposal.
These three thinkers offer a proposal to the Integral Metamodern community that we should recognize three distinct forms of practice (contemplation, knowledge, and social/missionary) and three distinct institutions for implementing them (monasteries, universities, and church). And these are what’s called “ecologies of practice” and “ecologies of institutions” which complement each other.
I think this is an excellent way to talk about the complex problems of religious (or perhaps “quasi-religious”) community in our spiritual spaces. It’s a simple and useful taxonomy for seeing ourselves more clearly (where do I fit? what is my mission?) and helping us to connect with others (where should I fulfill my mission? with whom should I collaborate?).
“There’s a collective sense that the world is ending, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s the rapture, the return of Jesus, wealth inequality, Satanic worship, or whether people’s ‘vibrations are too low’. It’s the only nonpartisan issue.” - Abbie Richards, a 25-year-old disinformation researcher who studies TikTok.
"To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin." - bell hooks
“Letting the multiracial culture of America churn and evolve is the right side of history — focusing more on 2119 than 1619, and aligning us to a future, and not to a past. The woke give the appearance of newness. But their politics is steeped in the poisonous racial categories and foul attitudes of a fast-eroding past. Instead of desperately shoring it up, why can we not finally let it go?” - Andrew Sullivan
“The integral claim is that no methodology is ‘evil’, that the majority of these [critical] methodologies have value and disclose some important aspect or dimension or zone of reality that other methodologies cannot disclose — but also that each of these methodologies is also essentially limited to one or two particular zones of reality, and get in trouble when they overreach into other zones they are not equipped to disclose. Which is why integral says things like ‘everyone is right’ and ‘everything in its right place’, while simultaneously saying ‘but stay in your damn zone...’ - Corey DeVos
“Values are expressed in styles of behavior which are often worlds apart from what people say is important. People are not typically very good self-observers, self-articulators and they have many personal, habitual and ideological incentives to assert beliefs, facts & value-claims which serve a purpose rather than present the authentic understanding and feelings of their body-mind-heart. It is hard to get a man to understand something if his paycheck depends upon him not understanding it.” - Layman Pascal
“True conservatism’s great virtue is that it teaches us to be humble about what we think we know; it gets human nature right, and understands that we are primarily a collection of unconscious processes, deep emotions, and clashing desires. Conservatism’s profound insight is that it’s impossible to build a healthy society strictly on the principle of self-interest.” - David Brooks
"I remember this." - Neo (Matrix Resurrections)
Songs for the Soul
On Integralists, Mark B. says, “One of my greatest heroes, and one of my favorite songs… ‘Wake up and live your life, wake up and live!’
IM Spirituality in Real Life: An Apology
I posted this statement on my Facebook page:
Over the past 11 or so years there have been some times when I criticized other people too harshly, pushed someone’s buttons too hard, or failed to listen and support. Now that I am embarking on a new phase of my career as a minister, I am sad about that and hope that bridges haven’t been permanently burned.
I apologize for all the words that I have said that did not give you space to be truly yourself. I apologize for words that I have said that failed to see the Big Picture, that postured in a rigid position instead of flexing into a flowing position. And of course there were times when I could have said things smarter, kinder, or more skillfully.
I’m not perfect and therefore can’t promise that I will always be able to get the right words out in the future. But you have my word that if I screw up and realize that I did, then I will come to you to apologize. Please hold me to it, and if you have it in your hearts, perhaps forgive me too.
Blessings and peace to you,
P.S.: If I’ve blocked you in the past it is because I feel you have wronged me in some way, such as stalking or bullying. I forgive you for the wrongs that you have done to me, and I have unblocked you. To be clear, today I have unblocked everyone. And you will stay unblocked unless you compromise my safety or give me another reason for doing so.
Nobody's perfect; we make mistakes and get triggered by others. It's bad enough in our intimate relationships, but then these flaws get put on display in social media within our spiritual community. And when that happens, exchanging love and forgiveness with each other seems like a tall order.
I want to risk being more loving in my relationships. It starts by saying that I'm sorry.