Category Archives: Personal Growth & Spiritual Development

Gender Jam Begins at ICSG!

Contributed by Robert Fagerlund
What is Gender Jam, you ask? It is a regular meeting group to provide a nonjudgmental, supportive, not scary forum to discuss and share on gender issues, social sexual roles and expectations, women’s issues, men’s issues, LGBTQ issues, straight issues, and any other related topics. There will be no agenda, no predetermined topic or issue. Conversation will arise from whatever attendees wish to talk about. This will be open to everyone in the community. Attendees participation in sharing or commenting is not required. No one will ever be “put on the spot” or made to feel uncomfortable about speaking or about not speaking.
The first Gender Jam will be on Tuesday, March 13 from 7:00–9:00p. Come on and check it out! Gender Jam is free. Donations to the Interfaith Center will be accepted. 
To get the conversation started, here is a message from Rob Fagerlund, the creator of the group:
Feminism is the best thing that ever happened to men.
Why do I say that? One thing feminism set in motion (and I mean long ago, at least as far back Susan B. Anthony and the other nineteenth century feminists who fought for women’s rights) is a challenge to destructive and oppressive gender roles and expectations for everyone.
And no, the feminist struggle is far from over. But that’s not really my focus here. I would like to make a few observations about feminism and men.

Continue reading Gender Jam Begins at ICSG!

Messages From Joe

Hello Interfaith Family,

If you have not yet been to a service during which we are graced with Joe Johnson’s words, then I am happy to be introducing you to him through our blog. ICSG got connected to Joe through a new member of our community, Holly Honig-Josephson. Holly works with an organization called Humanity for Prisoners that provides a variety of problem-solving services for incarcerated persons in Michigan to alleviate suffering beyond the just administration of their sentences. Joe is one of those people and Holly met him through this work.

During their communications, Joe shared with Holly some of his spiritual insights and expressed his interest in being connected to a spiritual community, which led Holly to speak with me. Since then, via the prison email system, I have been sending Joe the topics for Sunday talks and he sends his reflections to be shared during open mic. This has been a truly inspiring experience for me, as I am always amazed by his reflections. I often reflect that he should have my job! Recently, because of its importance and profundity, I included a part of his message during my talk on The Great Turning. Below are some of the powerful messages he has shared so far. Maybe one day we’ll make a book, Messages From Joe. Enjoy.

Introduction

Allow me this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Joseph Johnson, I’ve been incarcerated for 37 years for a mistake that I made as a teenager. I along with my codefendant robbed two youths who were pushing an Ice Cream cart selling ice cream of $27.50 and some ice cream. For this I was sentenced to serve a parolable life term. My codefendant was sentence to 6 Months county jail and 5 years probation. I do not give this information expecting sympathy because what I did was wrong and I’m being held responsible and accountable for my actions.

I want to first thank Pastor Lauren and Holly for making this opportunity to communicate with you all possible and I’m so humbled to have this opportunity to reach out to you from where I sit. It furthers my belief that the strong arm of the ALL is most powerful.

Continue reading Messages From Joe

Thoughts For When You Feel Paralyzed

Many people are asking themselves what to do in response to the state of our world right now. That’s really good, we should be asking. Many of us are genuinely and deeply wanting to respond, but feeling a sense of overwhelm and despair, asking “what am I supposed to do? What can I do?” First of all, I want you to know that I feel paralyzed a little bit almost every day. I’ve decided it’s part of my creative process and I definitely know it’s part of choosing to engage in the world rather than turn away from it. I know that I stand up on Sunday with inspiring messages that probably make you think I never feel hopeless or paralyzed, but that’s completely untrue. In fact, some of my most powerful messages come from times when I have wrestled with a paralyzed or hopeless state. Since I like to get curious about any experience I’m having, study it, explore it, and let it stretch me, I’m trying to explore this experience of paralysis. So here are some things that are coming up for me around it. Maybe this will be helpful for you. I hope at least it offers a little support along the way.

1. Older and wiser people have told me that we are here for this moment in history because we are capable. So I remind myself that I am capable and we are capable.

2. I remind myself that there are a ton of really good people out there who feel like me and a lot of them are doing really good work. When I feel overly responsible- like somehow it is up to me and only me to solve alllll of the world’s problems (logical, I know), I remind myself of this.

3. I also remind myself that it IS time for me to be doing something, and maybe things I’ve not done before. The feeling of immense anxiety and sense of incredible urgency about the state of the world right now is really honest and it is trying to let me know that this is serious. So turn the question into a serious one rather than hopeless one. What can I do? Sit down with your creative, powerful, and energized self. Think big, get curious and excited about where this journey might take you and what big things you might be up to. When you talk yourself out of big ideas because you don’t think it will work, remind yourself this is a non-normal time and requires a non-normal response. Also the small things matter too, so don’t brush those aside. Think small and think bigger and seriously, do whatever your idea is. Just do it. Like Nike. Then help your friends get big ideas and do them too.

4. I force myself to stay with the tension. What often happens is that to escape the feeling of overwhelm and paralysis we just start avoiding everything. This is where complacency begins. So instead of fleeing from the uncomfortable tension of knowing there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m not quite sure where to start, I try to sit with that very feeling and not run from it. What’s it like just to sit with that “what can I do?” feeling. I don’t pitch a tent in it, but I don’t run from it either. I just let myself feel it for a little while. It won’t eat you alive if you don’t let it, I promise. Throw yourself a hopeless party and eat some cake, get playful with paralysis; like really ask yourself, what is this experience? Isn’t it interesting?! This is a tension that needs your consciousness. Get to know it and see what it has to teach you. Know that it connects you to a lot of people experiencing the same tension right now. Simply trying to get out of it will ensure that you just go back to your comfortable life. I’m not letting myself do that, and I’m sorry, but I can’t let you do that either.

5. I am learning to expand my container. The idea of “my container” is about what I’m able to hold, in a spiritual/emotional/psychological sense; what I’m able to include in my being. Expanding my container means, for me, the willingness to say I can hold all my own daily stresses and challenges, while also being big enough to hold the darkness of the world. I can almost physically feel myself stretch when I do this. It is definitely a real energetic experience. It means that I have to embrace the shadow fully and not be afraid of what I find. It also means I have to be really okay about not feeling good all the time.  A mantra I have is, “I am strong enough and resilient enough to hold this.” Sometimes, it sounds more like, “Okay world, let’s do this thing.” So, now is the time to fully engage in a spirituality that has you wrestling with uncertainty, fear, and resiliency. There are lineages that have embraced these experiences and right now, this needs to be our spiritual practice and those are your key search words. I will tell you that this work is not easy, but it is incredibly freeing, so it is not without rich harvest. Andrew Harvey, Pema Chodron, Jean Shinoda Bolen, and Brene Brown are all good names for this.

6. If you are feeling like you are of an age where you were fighting against a lot of the same kind of stuff in the 60’s that we’re facing right now and you know your action is not going to look the same, but you want to do something- as a young person, I have an idea for you. Become a mentor, encourager, supporter of young people who are acting and needing inspiration, direction, love, and tea and cookies from someone who wants to give them some mama or papa bear love. Gather your friends and gather some young people and become their support system for their acts of catalyzing change.

7. I listen to that still, small voice within. I know my soul, my heart chakra, the Divine Mind, however you want to name it, is working with me. Sometimes we have to be patient and keep listening. Sometimes it takes a little while to hear the direction and get clarity and usually we get it from receptivity as opposed to grasping. So use your meditation time to be fiercely receptive and to trust that your soul is carrying the message you need to hear. Pause, listen, and be willing to try out what it says even if it seems totally illogical or you feel like you aren’t actually capable of doing what it is asking. You are. Just be ready to leap.

 

“Changing the world doesn’t happen all at once. It isn’t a big bang. It’s an evolution, the sum of a billion tiny sparks. And some of those sparks will have to come from you.” -Katie Couric

Addressing Panic Attacks Using the Wisdom of Ayurveda

by Rev. Lauren Tatarsky, Senior Minister

tree trunk with butterflyI’ve been noticing among friends, family, and clients that experiences of panic are on the rise. Many people who have experienced anxiety in some form or another but never experienced panic attacks before are having them now. When patterns start to arise in the circles that make up my world, it strikes me to reflect a bit on the larger picture.

It is my experience that we each have our own complex emotional and energetic bodies, but we are also super sensitive beings and pick up energies from the world around us. And we are more inundated with painful and traumatic events from all over the world than we ever have been before. So first of all, I’d like to tell you that you are not alone in your panic and it may not be your panic alone that you are experiencing. There are likely real things happening in your life that are causing you to experience anxiety (another conversation for another time), but the fact that you are experiencing it as panic now may have a lot to do with the energetic environment of our world. Panic is a pretty accurate description of the state of our world at this moment in time.

Your panic makes sense to me. Your anxiety also makes sense. So this is not about something being wrong with you for feeling these things and you should know that truly, you are not alone. This is about supporting yourself in getting through times of panic; surviving them so that you can get back to connecting with yourself as a whole person and seeing more clearly what’s inside you and in front of you.

What not to do when you’re in a panic state

First off, if you self medicate with marijuana for anxiety, know that there is a lot of investigation happening around marijuana-induced panic attacks. Note that for yourself and look into it. Continue reading Addressing Panic Attacks Using the Wisdom of Ayurveda

Follow Up Thoughts on Liberation

by Rev. Lauren Tatarsky, Senior Minister

Hello Interfaith Family,

This is a follow up on our lively talk about liberation this past Sunday in response to a request for more information about Lilith.

I have an oracle deck that I love called Goddesses: Knowledge Cards. It shares stories of Goddesses from Greek, Roman, Celtic, Native American, Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and Scandinavian mythologies.

Lilith, in Goddesses, Knowledge Cards by Michael BabcockHere’s what it has to say about Lilith:

“Lilith is a Middle Eastern goddess of abundance, fertility, and fecundity, the giver of agriculture to humans. The first woman created and the first wife of Adam, she refused to be subordinate to Adam in any way.

“Lilith is associated with the owl, a figure of darkness and deep wisdom, for she is also a goddess of death and transformation. She is sometimes represented as a demonic figure, for her dark wisdom can her sexual energy can be very threatening. She is known to appear as a frightening figure in dreams.

“Lilith is associated with the lotus, and the symbolism of that flower tells us much about her. The lotus, an exquisite flower that grows out of dark, rank, decaying earth, represents spiritual unfolding and the blossoming of the heart of wisdom. Like the lotus, Lilith challenges us to look upon our dark side and incorporate it into our wholeness so that our great beauty can blossom forth.”

~Michael Babcock

As I mentioned, the Wikipedia information about Lilith calls her a “dangerous demon of the night” who was “sexually wanton” and thankfully banished from Eden.

But the information from more spiritual and perhaps less culturally influenced perspectives, like the one above, suggests to me that her power was only threatening in that it was a liberating force, unafraid of the darkness, and challenging to the status quo.

There are many stories like Lilith, of indigenous women, black women, and members of marginalized groups far and wide who have been demonized or forgotten in our cultural mythological and religious paradigm. There is a book, for instance, called Passionate Enlightenment by Miranda Shaw that brings to light stories of female Tantric Buddhist teachers who were powerful spiritual teachers and equally transformational in their approach. Bringing their voices back is, to me, a powerful energetic intervention in this important time.

As a side note, anyone remember the Lilith Fair? This was a great effort of female musicians to increase the recognition and power of women in music. Very aptly named.

And I wanted to leave you with one final quote, which has stuck with me after our time together on Sunday.

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

~Helen Keller

If you weren’t here Sunday, you can click here for my talk, entitled Liberation, Inside and Out.

Much Love and Many Blessings,

Lauren

New Challenges, New Beginnings

by Senior Minister David T. Bell

A snapshot of founding minister Dave Bell, who attended the New Seminary in New York and founded the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth in Ann Arbor, MI.
David T. Bell

It is amazing to realize another year is about to unfold. There are quite a number of things that we would change about the year of 2016. Perhaps we should have enlarged the flash paper for the Burning Bowl service. 🙂 But seriously, we know that even as we feel resistance to what is occurring in the world, our true mission is to be the bringers of light. As bringers of light, it does not serve us to grumble and complain, to shake our heads in disbelief, or to express anger and frustration.

Every being, including those whom we might see as misguided or even evil, are expressions of divinity. As such, we cannot spend our time finding fault or criticizing them. The difficult task is to hold them in light, while finding ways to ensure that harm does not befall those who may be the subject of prejudice, if not out right hatred.

This will not be easy. Whatever actions we choose to take, anger should be left behind. As Jeshua said at our Christmas morning service, anger is never justified. He specifically said that his actions in driving the money changers from the Temple were not a result of anger.

There is no way that I or anyone can anticipate what situations will arise in the next year, or the next four years. What can be said, emphatically, is that guidance is available.

When faced with the opportunity to take some action, always pause a moment and ask for guidance.

Jeshua, the Holy Spirit, or your guardian angels will absolutely respond. Pausing a moment before acting is also a wonderful way to allow momentary anger to dissipate. So let us remember that we are the Bringers of Light as we ring in the New Year.

Ministerial Search Observations

The Ministerial Search Committee has been doing yeoman duty in attracting our next spiritual leader. They have established a working protocol that has served them well and they are sticking to it. I am optimistic that we will have a difficult choice to make amongst the excellent candidates. We will see how it unfolds.

Judy and I are heading for Florida toward the end of January. We are leaving a few days early so that we can scout out a new place to hang out. Our beloved Anna Maria Island has become too crowded and way too expensive. We still plan to be snow birds after I retire, but not Florida residents. I will be flying home for the month of March and we will both return to Michigan again in mid-April.

Blessings to all,

Dave

Opening our Minds & Hearts to the LGBTQ Community

by Rev. Annie Kopko, Associate Minister
Snapshot of Associate Minister Annie Kopko of the Interfaith Center in Ann Arbor.
Associate Minister Annie Kopko

We want to be a community that will “Welcome the strange, not just the stranger.”

The ministers at our beloved Center have been discussing this ever since Rev. Delyth and I attended a workshop last September. This workshop was organized to help faith communities come together and learn how we can become more inclusive and welcoming of LGBTQ individuals.

LGBTQIA = LESBIAN, BI-SEXUAL, GAY, TRANSGENDER, INTERSEX, OR ASEXUAL

As a follow-up to what we learned at the September workshop, our Center will welcome Rev. Dr. Julie Nemecek to speak at the Sunday service on January 15.  Reverend Julie is both an ordained Baptist minister and one of Michigan’s leading voices on transgender issues. She has worked with many churches on becoming an open and affirming church (inclusive of LGBTQIA people).  Continue reading Opening our Minds & Hearts to the LGBTQ Community

This is the Time

Here is challenge as well as some words of encouragement for everyone in the turbulence following the presidential election. May the challenges facing us all serve our collective awakening.

There are three parts to this post:

1) A video of the Sunday service with guest speaker Rev. Holly Makimaa.

2) A copy of the text Rev. Holly quoted at the end of her talk, “Now is Your Time” by L’Erin Alta.

3) A spiritual reading given by member Carol Bardenstein, “We Were Made for These Times” by Dr.  Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

Sunday Service with Interfaith Minister Holly Makimaa

“Now is Your Time,” by L’Erin Alta

If you ever felt called to be a healer, a teacher, a salve for the people, now is your time to come forward.

If you are a word weaver, or a light worker, or a lender of ears, now is your time to come forward.

If you have been hiding medicine in your pockets, behind your eyes, beneath your tongue, waiting for the ‘right’ time to share it, now is your time to come forward. Continue reading This is the Time

Embodying Higher Consciousness in Turbulent Times

post-election-spirituality resourcesHow do people on a conscious spiritual path embrace our spiritual power in a time of great fear and divisiveness?

What is the middle way, between falling victim to fear on the one hand, and spiritual bypassing on the other?

Here are two perspectives from wise American teachers:

  1.  Marianne Williamson, author of Return to Love and Healing the Soul of America  (1998), speaks on wise engagement as citizens in a democracy, from the point of view of A Course in Miracles, here. This talk includes a challenge for New Thought people to take a hard look at the temptation to avoid difficult topics by judging them as “negative.” She says now is an opportunity for “girls to become women and boys to become men” in our spiritual lives. (video)
  2.  Tara Brach, spiritual director at the Insight Meditation Center in Washington, DC, suggests how we can “Play a Greater Part,” in a post-retreat talk here. (audio)

Continue reading Embodying Higher Consciousness in Turbulent Times

Letting Joy Lead

by Scott Kalechstein Grace

scott-grace_free-hugsI do what I love. For a living. Full time. Have done so for twenty six years.

Lately I’ve had a few months in a row of practically no income, and Mr. Fix It (my mind) has stepped up to the plate with a very familiar solution involving two steps:

1) Freak out.

2) Use the adrenaline gained from freaking out to make things happen.

Mr. Fix It has given me this advice my entire adult life. He has glimpsed the future, and assures me that it will suck unless I let a sense of urgency push me to do things that have generated income for me in the past : Continue reading Letting Joy Lead