As religions lose faith, a crisis of meaning

At a certain point in my spiritual journey, the words of the Roman Catholic faith in which I was raised ceased to have clear meaning, and I was at a loss as to say whether or not I considered myself a Christian. I knew what various groups of people understood by the claim that “I am a Christian;” I knew what prominent writers and theologians meant when they said “I am a Christian;” but I did not know what those words would mean for me.

One way of looking at this situation is to say that I was lost in the Babel of religious language, striving to make sense of different dialects of faith and reclaim a relationship to the words of faith that might restore sense and sensibility. Without having discovered an integral or evolutionary understanding of spiritual development — such as the writings of theologians James Fowler and Jim Marion and psychological theorist and philosopher Ken Wilber — I might have remained stuck in this painful place.

What the Integral Framework provided was a new approach to religious language, a robust set of meta-linguistic tools that allowed me to see a compelling vision for organizing Christian language (and the worldviews in which they are expressed) into a comprehensive picture that could be correlated to the language of a vast array of religious, scientific, psychological, and philosophical traditions. In essence, the Integral Framework acted as a sort of “meta-language,” allowing me to hold meaningful conversation with “Integrally-informed” individuals, form new communal connections of an interfaith and interspiritual nature, and shift of our modes of thinking and being into ever more holistic directions.

There is a certain “Integral language,” a rapidly evolving new way of communicating about personal and collective development, complete with a variety of dialects and accents. The most dominant dialect is AQAL, the version of the Integral Framework in development by the Integral Institute. Its vocabulary is rich with a glossary of terms compiled by Matt Rentschler such as Agape, agency, altitudes, AQAL, artifact, autopoiesis, causal body, center of gravity, deep structures, depth, and so forth.

Not all of the terms in the Integral Framework mean what someone who has never read a book about Integral Theory might think it means. For example, altitude isn’t something an airline pilot talks about with air traffic control. In order to understand AQAL’s definition of altitude as

A general degree of development (i.e., degree of consciousness or degree of complexity), applicable to any given line

you must first have an understanding of such concepts as “degrees of consciousness,” “complexity,” and “lines of development.” It also is important to understand why Ken Wilber introduced the term in his 2007 book Integral Spirituality and the problems it was intended to solve with the previous version of Wilber’s Integral Theory (i.e., Wilber IV).

The Integral language isn’t for everyone. And even many people drawn to the embodied practices and holistic sensibility of the Integral movement aren’t particularly turned on by talking in the abstract terminology of psychological meta-theory and post-metaphysical ontology, empistemology, and methodology. Hardcore “Integral geeks” are to be found, but whenever Integrally-informed people gather together they seem to self-create a new dialect for communicating what is important to them and sharing it with people not “in the know.”

In time, I want to tell you more about the progress of my spiritual journey in the six or so years since penning Soulfully Gay, including shifts in my understanding of Christianity and how my attention shifted over time to the dream of contributing to a “meta-language,” one that could help to bridge the communication stumbling blocks that I suspect will becoming vitally important to rapidly increasing numbers of people in the years ahead. But today, let’s just sit with the question: what is it to have a “religious language,” how does it relate to philosophy or theology, and how do we best develop fluency?

Today I heard about a new book that promises to shed some light on these questions. I’ve read the excerpts available online and look forward to reading Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – And How They Can Be Restored by Marcus J. Borg, the Portland-based theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Borg discusses the crisis in contemporary Christianity as a problem of losing a common language, and he targets especially the linguistic problems caused by overly narrow and literal translations of Christianity’s traditional language of “heaven/hell,” “sin/redemption,” and so forth. In the Introduction to Speaking Christian, he writes:

Every religion has a basic vocabulary: its “big” words and collections of words, spoken and heard in worship, embodied in rituals and practices.

Thus to be Jewish means “speaking Jewish”; to be Muslim means “speaking Muslim”; to be Buddhist means “speaking Buddhist”; and so forth. By “speaking” I do not mean merely knowing either the ancient languages or these religions or their modern descendants. I mean something more basic: the way practitioners use the concepts and ideas from their religion as a lens through which to see the world, the way they use them to connect their religion to their life in the world.

To use an illuminating phrase from recent scholarship, religions are “cultural-linguistic traditions.” What this means is both simple and important. Every religion oriented in a particular culture and thus used the language of that culture, even if in ways that radically challenged it. If a religion survived over time, it became a cultural-linguistic tradition in its own right, with its own language, its basic vocabulary, sacred texts and stories, rituals and practices. These are often organized into comprehensive systems of thought — what Christians call theology, including doctrines and dogmas.

Borg’s agenda in the book is to “reclaim” the language of traditional Christianity, building fluency in the “true meaning” of the words of the faith. The book has received positive attention in publications such as the Christian Post and So What Faith as well as other progressive spiritual sources. Also, Prickliestpear, the pseudonym of The Way Ahead blog on integral Christianity, has a favorable take:

Borg … prefers redeeming the language, and I agree with him…. Language is such an integral part of a religious tradition that it cannot be replaced to any great extent without becoming another religion. There is much to be gained by reclaiming traditional language and much to be lost by replacing it.

Until I get the chance to read the book, I’m sitting with a suspicion that Borg will likely oversimplify the issues it addresses to some point of increasing muddle and nonsense. So long as we are trying to look back to the original sources of religious language and find the “true meaning” of a word, we are already buying into a host of philosophical assumptions that may be useful at some early stages of development but are probably less useful the further along we progress.

In “Integral-speak,” we could say that Borg’s Speaking Christian appears to offer an interesting perspective on the Lower-Left Quadrant from a stage of consciousness somewhere on the “subtle floor” (i.e., Orange, Green, or Teal). Put simply, it has part of the picture, but its wholeness may be less than fully developed. Nevertheless, I think the book’s attention to religious language couldn’t be more welcome or important to raise to a wider audience at this time.

In pursuit of “multiple personality order”

Dear Reader,

As I wrote on the blog today, professionals today frequently face the problem of “multiple personality disorder”: the fragmentation, confusion, and lack of cohesion of their personal and professional brands (and the brand of their employer or business).

This is certainly a topic that’s been on my mind lately as I reflect on the best way to define my personal and career goals for the years ahead and create an online identity that reinforces an integral brand and supports my mission. What is the golden thread that connects my various interests and passions, and how can I use it in a way that supports satisfying work and financial security?

When I started the blog, I hoped to create a space for writing on a regular basis about how Integral theory and practice can be useful for addressing issues in LGBT lives, especially those of gay men. There’s definitely a “space” for this niche in the blogosphere, but I am doubtful that my passion is most fully aligned with “filling” the space at this time. Instead, I believe there are other ways that I may help to catalyze the transmission of information about this space while writing, perhaps, for the same audience at a slightly different angle.

Thus, I forsee the day in the weeks or months ahead when I will redirect and my Twitter feed to one or more new homes which are more aligned with my ever-evolving brand(s), whether it be my brand as an author with a passion for Integral spirituality, my brand as an author and activist with a passion for LGBT issues, or another aspect of my evolving professional brand as the leader of Writing Wolf, my editorial services firm founded in 2004 which is evolving into a firm specializing in career marketing services.

While I work out my brand confusion into some semblance of what Brian Solis calls “multiple personality order”, you have my gratitude for your continued interest in following my writing. In the days and weeks ahead, I’ll announce my new directions here so you may update your bookmarks, links, and attention.

Thank you… and many blessings in every dimension of your life.

Joe Perez

Excerpts from Kronology (or: My Never-Before-Published Review of Ken Wilber’s Integral Spirituality)

It’s hard to believe it’s been over three years since one of the first times I put the original vision for the Kronology Wheel to paper. In these doodles (originally sent only to Ken Wilber himself as my entire review of his 2006 book Integral Spirituality), I aimed to convey my artistic vision for the Kronos Wheel: a mandala of Time, each date coordinated with a specific location of development in structures, types, experiences, angles, and modes (STEAM) or levels, types, states, quadrants, and lines (AQAL in Wilber V).

The origins of the vision are not theoretical (though I have begun to document the philosophical implications, this is neither my focus nor forté). Instead, Kronology is grounded in an artistic vision: a unity of all space and time, thought and matter, Kosmos and Kronos. The map, which today I call the Kalendar, is an aesthetic interpretation of Oneness from a vantage point incorporating but not limited by STEAM (my acronym for what is essentially the AQAL Framework).

There are many ways to enumerate or illustrate the specific locations on the Kalendar (called kalens), and I have focused on poetry as my first vehicle for exploring the map. The structure is defined by the Kalendar itself: a set of 360 distinct poems which together form a coherent (?) narrative in three volumes. The poem is neither a traditional epic (as in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which, by the way, is probably its closest literary cousin) nor a collection of distinct poems (as most contemporary poets), but a collection of numerous independent kalens within the Kalendar.

The ultimate realization of the poetry is still many years away; however, I will occasionally publish selections from the collection on this blog. The selections included herein will usually (but not exclusively) focus on those kalens representing homophilia/homophobia.

Read along, if you will, and set the songs to your own music. Every poem you see here is only a draft. Your comments and criticism can help me to develop the poem more fully, and every perspective is most welcome, love it or hate it. (The authors of the most helpful comments, naturally, will receive acknowledgment when the book eventually sees publication).

Letter from a reader of Soulfully Gay

Dear Joe,

Last week I was at Barnes & Noble, had just finished my latte and my book, Eat Pray Love (great), was walking out of the store glancing at books on a table display, and saw the words “Soul,” “Gay,” and “Integral,” so of course your book just jumped off the shelf into my hands. I stood there reading Ken Wilber’s amazing Forward and bought the book immediately, as I am a lesbian and a Ken Wilber nut. I finished reading it a couple of days ago and was extremely impressed.

I live in Denver, Colorado. I went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, got a couple of master’s in Sacred Music and Choral Conducting, spent four years as a full-time minister of music at a large church in Houston, was fired for being gay in 1967, went back to school to become a freelance court reporter, which lasted for 30 years, and I’m now 67 and four years into retirement.

Do you remember in Boomeritis when Ken says that people have spurts of growth in their 20s and also after retirement (geeks and geezers)? Well, I’m one of the geezers. Meanwhile, I helped start Denver PFLAG in 1980, and later formed and conducted four gay choruses: the PFLAG Festival Chorus, the Denver Women’s Chorus, the Celebration ’90 Festival Chorus (a world chorus for the Gay Games in Vancouver in 1990), and Harmony: a Colorado Chorale. I stopped conducting 12 years ago, but still go to all the concerts.

My lover Judith and I met in PFLAG and have been together 24 years this month, and we’ve also been involved in Soulforce at their demonstrations in Denver for the Episcopalians, Washington D.C. for the Catholic bishops, and Colorado Springs for Focus on the Family twice.

Several years ago we both read Grace and Grit. I thought it was one of the best books I had ever read, but several years later Judith read in the newspaper that Ken Wilber was appearing at Tattered Cover Book Store in downtown Denver to sign his novel Boomeritis, so we jumped at the chance to meet him. I took that book with me to the mountains as a summer read, and it blew my mind and, as they say, the rest is history. I organized a group of my friends (18 actually showed up) to discuss the book twice, then I read A Theory of Everything, A Brief History of Everything, One Taste, A Simple Feeling of Being, The Marriage of Sense and Soul, The Essential Ken Wilber, and most recently Integral Spirituality.

That last one is a tough one, but we just finished a discussion group that took it on… So it’s easy to see why I related so much to your book. I have also lost many friends to aids and have four very good friends who are still living with it and doing very well…

…My life has classically passed through all the stages, Christianity for 27 years, nothing for 13 years, Science of Mind for 15 or 20 years, and then Ken stepped in and blew it all to hell. And now….maybe Integral. I hope so. Anyway, thanks for writing Soulfully Gay. I did appreciate it so much…

And I will take your book with me to the Meetup group this Wednesday, June 6, and suggest that they may want to read it. I’ve met thousands of gay men in my work with PFLAG and all the choruses over the years, but your book gave me some new insights into gay men about things that most people don’t have the guts or gumption to talk about in public, at least not to women. I did notice that it was almost entirely about men, and I wondered if you have had much contact with lesbians on your path.



Thanks for permission to reprint your letter. To address your last question, I realize that Soulfully Gay is primarily about my experiences as a gay man so there’s not much that’s directly related to the experiences of others as such.

As for whether I’ve encountered lesbians on my path: yes, but not enough. (I tend to have more women friends in my life the more I’m engaged in social service work, which has been on and off.) I want to eventually do a follow-up book which will explore more richly the various experiences of women, lesbians, bisexuals, the transgendered, and other sexual minorities and gender outlaws. There’s still a lot of room for me to grow in my understanding of human nature by encountering “otherness” and growing together in friendship and love.

What do the colors on this blog mean?

Until uses the color scheme of Kronology to describe coordinates of human experience, nature, and development. The colors of the rainbow (primary, secondary, and tertiary) describe each of the 12 stations (S130 to S13B) of visible light. The result is most comparable to the color scheme of Ken Wilber’s Integral Spirituality, in which each altitude of human development corresponds to a marker such as infrafred, red, magenta, amber, and so on. (But then again, how do you display infrared or ultraviolet light visibly?)

Additionally, many colors correspond to locations on the SDi map of spiral development. Persons familiar with Wilber’s or SDI’s color schemes are welcome to “mentally translate” the colors back into the language they are familiar with, just so long as they recognize that colors as used in Kronology denote Stations, not altitude markers or vMEMES.

Terminology Notes

Kronology. Kronology is my own effort (which is very much a work in progress) to produce an “emulator” which “includes and extends” Ken Wilber’s Integral Operating System; (b) an application of Integral Theory to the magical or astrological worldview (and therefore, in a sense, an updating of natural religion into a post-metaphysical structure of expression); and (c) an ordering system for the major symbols of human development.

Tiers in Kronology. T stands for Tier, a base-12 designation of one of the 30 tiers of the Kronos mandala (i.e., T0 to T25). Tiers are also designated by a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, with early tiers corresponding to invisible radiowaves, microwaves, and infrared light. T13, the 15th tier, is depicted by the range of visible light (thus, the 12 colors of the rainbow). T14 to T25 is depicted in terms of invisible ultraviolet light, x-ray radiation, and gamma radiation. Each tier represents the number of cycles of motion completed by a point moving across the Kronos mandala over time. T13 depicts the visible cosmos and all of its temporal contents from history until the end of time.

Stations in Kronology. S stands for Station, a base-12 designation of one of the 360 stations in Kronology (S0 to S259). The most commonly referenced stations are S130 to S13B, the 12 stations corresponding to visible light (i.e., red to red-violet light). Each station is a Kosmic Koordinate which can be used to trace the motion of a point moving across the Kronos mandala over time, and therefore is useful in tracking development (evolution) and regression (involution).

The current average stage of development in human nature and potential is in transition from S135 to S136 (i.e., a shift from yellow-green into green). The cutting edge of consciousness is thought to be the transition of a significant number of individuals from S136 to S137 and S138 (i.e., a shift from green into blue-green and blue consciousness). Various integral theorists call this latter shift the “emergence of integral intelligence” or the “leap into the second-tier”.

The Major Stations of Kronology and Their Corresponding Colors

The precise Hexadecimal values of the 12 colors used are shown below, so readers desiring to use this sheme in whole or part can easily do so on their weblogs.

Red (#ff0000), S130 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: infrared (Wilber), beige (SDi), prenatal, infancy, oral sensory, neediness, willfullness, disassociated consciousness, altered states, archaic, Stone Age, root chakra, animal.

Strategy keywords: Uroboris, survival, lifeforce, the courage to be, birth and rebirth, unconsciousness, psychosis, hallucination, electrical shock, awakenings, fundamental trust, Aries.

Red-Orange (#ff6600), S131 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: magenta (Wilber), purple (SDi), early childhood, adoration, bodily sensations, desire, magical, kinship, wonderment, body shame, safety, sacred spaces and objects, emotions, tribe mentality, team building.

Strategy keywords: self-love, feeling at home in the world, acceptance, getting grounded, enjoying life, dysphoria, flakiness, wishes and curses, divination, Taurus.

Orange (#ff9900), S132 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: red (Wilber/SDi), childhood play age, validation, power to control, freedom to pursue happiness, hedonistic, accumulating experience, narcissism, addiction, winner-take-all games.

Strategy keywords: self-expression, heroism, messiah complex, freedom to be let alone, mastery of the will, surrender, setting healthy boundaries, fascism, holy war, Gemini.

Yellow-Orange (#ffcc66), S133 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: amber (Wilber), blue (SDi), middle childhood, mythic-membership, purposefullness, law and order, stability, promise-keeping, fulfilling duties, guilt, hierarchy, ecclesiastical religion.

Strategy keywords: conformity, congruity, integrity, moral principles, honesty, virtues, vices, orthodoxy, dependence on a higher power, Absolute Truth, heaven, hell, Cancer.

Yellow (#ffff00), S134 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: orange (Wilber/SDi), adolescence, truth as correspondence to facts, cautiousness, unshackling from irrationality, Newtonian physics, rebelliousness, desire to control natural world, achievement.

Strategy keywords: modernism, spirited argument, individual conscience, industriousness, thrift, success, doubt, mental clarity, logical reasoning, demands for proof, Leo

Yellow-Green (#33cc00), S135 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: yellow (SDi), early 20s through age 30, attempts to synthesize skepticism and faith, devoted to ideals, focus on personal growth, refinement of practical skills, keeping to essentials or fundamentals.

Strategy keywords: Individualistic, Meta-systemic, Western medicine, late modernity, humility, sacrificing for the greater good, service, victim mentality, perpetrator role, critical methodologies, justification by works, Virgo.

Green (#009900), S136 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: green (Wilber), thirties, settling down, empathetic sensitivity, plurality, spiritual but not necessarily religious, taking delight in beauty, recognition of multiplicity and particularity, romanticism, self-contradiction, compassion, kindness.

Strategy keywords: Pluralistic Mind, HumanBond, self-realized, alternative medicine, postmodernism, camp humor, multiculturalism, achieving life balance, gender and sexual liberation, aesthetic attitude to life, Libra.

Blue-Green (#336666), S137 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: teal (Wilber), late 30s to mid-40s, mid-life transition, brooding questioning, dissatisfaction, suspicion, dominance and submission, interpersonal intimacy, jealousy, death and resurrection, occult or esoteric knowledge.

Strategy keywords: Low vision-logic, Systemic, FlexFlow, post-postmodernism, complementary medicine, shadow work, aliveness, reclaiming the soul, deep presence, tantric sexuality, looking into the abyss, sincerity and authenticity, existentialism, Scorpio.

Blue (#3366ff), S138 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: turquoise (Wilber), forties, mature adulthood, integrative, multiperspectival intelligence, holistic and universal healthcare, Third Way politics, multidisciplinary academic studies, concern with evolutionary and developmental dynamics.

Strategy keywords: AQAL Framework™, high vision-logic, GlobalView, Construct-aware, personal style of stewardship, flexible and flowing awareness, parental figure in divisive environment, bridge building, “analysis paralysis”, pilgrimage, Sagittarius.

Blue-Violet (#000066), S139 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: indigo (Wilber), fifties, prime of life, Humpty Dumpty, passionate efficiency, high creative flow, deep sense of interdependence, expanding need for power, “resistance is futile,” high-order problem solving.

Strategy keywords:Illumined Mind, Transcendent, strategic, genius, nannying or meddling interference, multi-national, global reach, multidimensional spirituality, Capricorn.

Violet (#333399), S13A (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: violet (Wilber), sixties, retirement age, golden years, creativity inspired by intuitive visions, holistic synthesis of old and new, revelation, zeal and impractical idealism, ineffectuality, spontaneity.

Strategy keywords: Intuitive Mind, Meta-Mind, imagining the impossible, creative syntheses in art, stabilizing subtle energies, oracles, wisdom of King Solomon, psychic powers, New Age spirit and rationality, Aquarius.

Red-Violet (#cc33cc), S13B (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: ultraviolet (Wilber), seventies, old age, elders, near death experiences, living with illness and dying processes, radiance and bliss, nondual awareness, altered states, instability, lack of strong personal boundaries, insanity, institutions.

Strategy keywords: mysticism, divinization of the Self, Overmind, deity, eccentricity, lightness of being, simplicity, distinguishing delusion and illusion, addictions and rehabilitation programs, Pisces.