I am streamlining my social media presence. Please visit my Substack page for subsequent blog posts.
I am streamlining my social media presence. Please visit my Substack page for subsequent blog posts.
I suppose the main reason that I accepted a calling to ministry in 2018 is that I had grown weary of making a living primarily for myself and being too self-centered. I worked in business in a less-than-thrilling occupation. And I spent several hours a week poring over social media sites, posting my thoughts in blog-like bites, and commenting on posts by others.
After a while, the routine grew tired and I doubted that there was really much point to it. What could I do that could make a real difference? I even wondered if I was really succeeding at building the “Integral community” when it was so fragmented with weak ties on Facebook. Was it even a true community or just an odd assortment of individuals who liked water cooler banter and arguing with “talking heads”?
As I thought of it, my vocation would have been obvious had I remained in the Roman Catholic Church. In the Church, men with a lot of commitment to spiritual things and passion for nurturing community go into the priesthood or become monks in one of dozens of religious societies or serve the Church as theologians. However, in my 20s, I stepped away from the faith on a sabbatical, and then in my 30s, I announced my resignation from Catholicism (you can read the post “Breaking Up with God is Hard to Do” in Soulfully Gay).
Having eschewed the most logical choice for my vocation and acknowledging that I needed a new career, I felt that there might be an innovative alternative: I could become an Integral Minister. This posed a problem because there was no integral church or spiritual community that I was aware of, and the one or two people who had tried to become ordained integral ministers failed to get it off the ground. I hear that an aspiring integral minister even asked Ken Wilber for ordination, but he said that it wasn’t in his job description.
After a search for ways of accomplishing my objective, I found a spiritual organization with ordained ministers, and after reviewing my background and essay they let me know that a bishop in the Esoteric Interfaith Church was happy to ordain me as an Integral Minister. This accomplished the formal part of the ministry process, but it all happened by email and mail, and it felt probably too cheap. When I compared it to the years-long and rigorous vetting given to ministers in a wide range of religious organizations, I wondered how much this piece of paper was really worth. I was grateful that they satisfied my request for ordination, but I was only just beginning to discern what being a minister was all about.
Today, that process goes on. It would be so much easier if there was an established organization that could provide ministerial formation and support, but without one, I feel that I must do this virtually alone. And my thoughts and plans for this vocation have come and go. Yes, I can design a future in this occupation with the privilege of working full-time in an unrelated occupation, but this comes at the cost of making me feel divided. It’s like I don’t trust my religious vocation enough to “step into it with both feet”, and I’ve hedged my bets in ways that may prevent me from succeeding (I fear) in either occupation so long as I don’t choose between them.
And so I have found a way forward that allows me to resolve a lot of these outstanding problems. It allows me to bridge divides in my spirit that I didn’t even know I had. It is risky as I can stand it, but the upside potential in terms of my own happiness can’t be priced. I want to tell you what it is but this post has gone on too long, and so I will tell you soon what I have in mind. But in the meantime, let me just say that I will be going back to Divinity School where I will finish a degree that I didn’t finish a few decades ago. By making up my mind, I haven’t resolved all my vocational questions, but I have picked a way to answer them with the help of a supportive community and many intellectual resources for my education and formation.
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.
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.
Comparing Thoreau’s notion with my own thoughts, I want to find out who’s right.
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:
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 individuals to becoming a better version of themselves and thereby serves 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 are primarily concerned about politics over religion, which isn’t necessarily the case at all. Their outgrowing of a synagogue’s or sangha’s politics is typically an outgrowth of their outgrowing the group’s spiritual teachings. This is how the eminent developmental psychologist Dr. James Fowler saw the faith of people who I am calling Post-Progressives:
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 who are growing into advanced (Stage 5 and beyond) stages of faith are beginning to see paradoxes in 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, 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 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.
I created my first website for a financial business in 1997 in HTML 1.0, working with back-end developers to move the company’s entire inventory to the Web. It was a side project, and I didn’t see myself becoming a programmer.
Just for fun, I built another one, a celebrity fan page, in 1999, on the Tripod service. Coding in HTML was easy for me, and new web tools were making it easier than ever for non-programmers to participate on the World Wide Web.
In the early 2000s, a new form of amateur journalism had emerged: blogging. Anyone could share their diary and most intimate thoughts with total strangers! What could be weirder and more exciting than that?
So I started a blog in 2003 called The Soulful Blogger, and parts of it endure to this day thanks to having been preserved in Soulfully Gay. If you wanted to know the answer to the question, “Who is Joe Perez?”, then you had a definitive place to go.
From 2003 to the present, I’ve blogged more often than not, though I left it aside for several years a few times. I wrote a lot of blog posts under nearly a dozen blog titles. I didn’t save all my blogs when I finished them and so I’ve lost track, keeping an archive of only 2,248 posts.
My blogs were places for experiments in consciousness, and I was always trying something new. I have the peculiar personality trait of not caring so much about what other people think of me, so I feel free to branch out in different directions and explore different sides of my personality and philosophy.
Web 3.0’s arrival in the mid-to-late 2000s, the historians already tell us, killed blogging because it made it even easier for non-programmers to create personal content while restricting its audience so the whole world wouldn’t be watching them as if they were parading in their underwear.
After my friends and fans joined Facebook, pretty soon no one wanted to visit my blog. Visitor traffic plummeted and most bloggers gave it up to become social media personalities. I joined Facebook right away, but I also stepped back from blogging for a long time.
Now I’m back at it, and this time for good. This blog — let’s just call it my Integral Ministry Blog — has come, and it has replaced my old Worldview Artist site at Joe-Perez.com. It is distinct from my Integralist Newsletter on Substack, which will contain longer musings (900 words or longer) such as book reviews and philosophical expositions. And then there’s my Facebook page, which has never been good for much, but which hopefully may serve at least to send updates from both of these media to my fans.
My hope with my Integral Ministry Blog is to give you glimmers into my life and work as a minister, as a writer working with Spirit on new books, and my thoughts on the religious life and personal spiritual development.
As many of you know or have presumed, I have a predilection for Integral Spirituality that goes beyond the ordinary. About 30 years ago, I studied comparative religion and philosophy as an undergraduate and took courses alongside Harvard Divinity School students. Later I dropped out of Divinity School in Chicago, and I never thought I would have a calling to ministry.
I was wrong. Nearly three years ago, I embarked on a course of affirming my calling to be an Integral Minister. I have more than incidental leanings to Roman Catholicism, but my actual philosophy goes beyond that institution’s catechism. I have flirted with the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalists, Buddhism, Islam, Daoist Confucianism, and with Metamodern Philosophy, but the truth is that none of these options fit me exactly. I have come to understand that my ministry serves the Integral Tradition… and if people don’t understand what that represents, then I’ll need to enlighten them.
For the past three years, I worried that because I didn’t have a Church, my ministry would be hobbled. That’s definitely a difficulty: the so-called “integral movement” lacks a well-structured lower-right quadrant, which is to say that it’s small and disorganized. While no one can point me to the right way or best way to be an Integral Minister, there’s no reason that I can’t trailblaze a path forward without an institution behind me. I will just have to make it happen with whatever technological and social tools that I have available.
Soon after publicly declaring my intention to accept a religious vocation in a 2018 blog post, a disruption happened: I lost my main source of financial support. I felt that I had no choice but to do a job that I had done before, working as a technical writer specializing in writing documentation for software development teams. Around the same time, I suffered from creative blocks that delayed the completion of my books on mystical metalanguage… and then COVID-19 hit.
So, better late than never, I say. I am writing to let you know that I won’t be giving up my day job as a technical writer, but I will devote a portion of my time to ministry outside of work hours — or between writing contracts. What’s more, I don’t see my creative writing projects as separate from my ministry; I feel that they are basically God’s gifts to the world and I am his imperfect vessel for making them happen.
Most importantly, I am also writing to simply let you know that I haven’t forgotten you, and that I haven’t given up on ministry, and that I’m still working out what my calling will look like. Trace my journey in learning how to better serve the Integral community and the world by following me on Facebook, on this blog, and my Substack newsletter.