At the Institute we've been reflecting on our history and our founder's vision. Given the rapid pace of change in our world, we've been considering how we can best serve.
If I had to give you the headlines in a minute or less, they would be something like this:
• We are living in a time of historic transition. An old age is dying, and a new age is being born. As Thomas Berry
told us, our old story no longer works to give us meaning, direction or purpose. Old institutions and old ways are breaking down.
• Our human family urgently needs—and we think is ready—to take the next big step forward in our spiritual journey.
This step is all about opening our hearts in love—to ourselves, to each other, and to the natural world. At Fetzer this is the work we want to be about, and this is our new mission—
We embrace this challenge with hope and optimism. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice.” We agree, and we go one step further: “The arc of the universe is long, and it bends
Only love can make us whole and make us one. Only love can heal our hearts, our relationships, our communities, and our world.
A Founder's Vision
Our founder, John Fetzer, saw all of this with remarkable clarity 30 and 40 years ago. A successful entrepreneur in broadcasting and professional sports, his abiding passion was to pursue his own spiritual awakening and support the spiritual exploration of others.
Though his roots were in the Christian faith, he came to explore and embrace the wisdom of many other great traditions. He was passionately committed to living in close, daily communion with the divine mystery, which he was equally comfortable calling God, or the Holy Spirit, or simply “Love” with a capital “L.”
“Love,” he said, “is the core energy that rules everything. Love is the one ingredient that holds us all together.” Love, for John Fetzer, was the source and the goal of all beings and all things, and he believed that his purpose in life was to help catalyze and support a global spiritual transformation.
Mr. Fetzer knew that this would not be the work of a single lifetime, but rather of many lifetimes. This made him see clearly that no single individual could lead the Institute in carrying his vision forward, but, instead, that this could be done only by a deeply grounded and deeply committed community.
So, with great humility and generosity of spirit, John Fetzer shared his final words of counsel to the Institute trustees.
“I am sure that as you listen, you will hear the ring of truth, first and foremost trying to create a community of freedom….”
In this community of freedom, he said, the Institute would discover the particular focus of its work in the world. And, he concluded,
Since John Fetzer's death in 1991, the Institute has been a part of significant, and in many cases groundbreaking, work in a number of important fields like mind-body health, science and spirituality, contemplative practice and formation, and spirituality in civil society.
Building Our "Community of Freedom"
During these years, the Institute staff has also been dedicated to becoming the "community of freedom" that John Fetzer called us to be. On most Wednesday mornings, our entire staff of 60 comes together to work on this commitment. At these gatherings, we share in spiritual practice; we work on building relationships and building trust; we practice deep listening and dialogue; we explore John Fetzer’s vision; and we talk about our emerging program vision and strategy.
There are many ways we, the Fetzer staff, describe ourselves. Among them, we identify as Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, “spiritual but not religious,” and some who simply ask not to be labeled. In this work we are wrestling in microcosm with the same spiritual challenges that face us as a global community:
- What is the spiritual common ground on which we all can stand?
- How can we honor the fact that we may each have very different spiritual paths?
- How can we strengthen that which unites us, while at the same time supporting each other in going deeper on the particular spiritual paths that each of us has chosen?
- How can we, at Fetzer, live our values of love, trust, authenticity, and inclusion in all that we do?
This effort is bearing fruit. Love and leadership are emerging from every corner of our community, and we’re getting to know each other better and love and trust each other more. We are learning how, with love and skill, to lean into the conflict situations that could pull us away from each other and undermine our ability to serve.
Through this work we are beginning to discern how we can best serve, and we have come to a new way of describing our spiritual common ground:
We are drawn into community by our shared experience that there is more to reality than physical reality, and that this “Something More” binds us to each other and to all that exists in a deeply interconnected, meaningful, and sacred way, and calls us to a life of love.
We have also come to a new way of describing who we are:
We are an inclusive, spiritually grounded community of love and hope.
And we have come to greater clarity about the work we are called to do. Very simply,
“Helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world,” what does this mean, and what is Fetzer’s part in it?
Our goal is to help catalyze and support a broad-scale, spiritually-grounded transformation from an ego-centered way of being grounded in separation and fear to an all-centered way of being grounded in oneness and love, with the result that a critical mass of persons around the world embrace love as the guiding principle and animating force for living in sacred relationship with self, others, and the natural world.
There are many aspects of this statement that we see as having important implications for our work:
- This is not a Fetzer-centric strategy. We are only a part of this: we can’t do it alone; it’s not something we can design or direct. It’s much bigger than we are.
- This is a big goal, and only a powerful global movement can achieve it. This cannot be a “post-traditions” movement, a “spiritual but not religious” movement or a “Western” movement. It must be global, and it must embrace existing and emerging expressions of spirituality, including the traditions.
- This is more than changing beliefs or even behaviors—it’s a fundamental transformation of our very way of being from ego-centered to all-centered, from separation and fear to oneness and love.
- We must not just be guided by love, our lives must express it. This is where we are trying to get: living in sacred relationship—sacred communion—with ourselves, others, and the natural world. And as I think about it, this sentence ends too soon, because it should also say living in sacred relationship with that “Something More,” that something larger than ourselves that guides and sustains us.
So if this is our goal, how will we achieve it?
The Institute will advance its new mission through four broad strategies:
A new narrative strategy focused on contributing to a worldview that integrates a sophisticated scientific understanding of physical reality with deep spiritual understanding of the “something more” that binds us together in a deeply interconnected and sacred reality and calls us to a life of love
This new story will bring the spiritual and scientific ways of knowing into a balanced and complementary relationship. From science will come the story of a living, emergent, and open universe with ample room for mystery, free will, and Love. From the deep spiritual wisdom of the traditions will come the knowledge that at the heart of this mystery
We have been bringing together leaders from a number of traditions and emerging interspiritual paths to think with us about the new story. Together, we talk about how it must be an overarching story, spare and spacious enough to accommodate aligned narratives grounded in the core commitments of each tradition and path. We are energized by these exchanges and are designing a much more ambitious program to further explore these ideas.
A movement-building strategy focused on accelerating the emergence of a powerful global movement for spiritual transformation
This area of focus has three main goals: mapping the emerging movements; connecting with and supporting movement leaders; and supporting the development of young leaders. I am finding it energizing to meet so many people who are bringing this dimension to their work, their organizations, and their communities. We are talking with people across sectors, including health, business, and the environment. There is clearly a lot more to learn and uncover and we look forward to charting and sharing what we find.
A science strategy focused on engaging science to maximize its contribution to the “new narrative” and to deepen our understanding of the factors that shape spiritual growth and development and our ability to love
Our science focus has two key aspects. The first is working across disciplines (with scientists, philosophers of science, theologians, etc…) on understanding the strengths and limitations of the scientific and spiritual ways of understanding reality in an effort to bring these two ways of knowing into a balanced and complementary relationship. The second is to engage with, and in some cases actively support, individual scientists. At present, much of this work is being carried forward by the Fetzer Memorial Trust through its Fetzer Franklin science program.
A spiritual communities strategy focused on supporting the emergence of new forms of inclusive spiritual communities, both within existing and emerging spiritual traditions
In this area we are working to map and understand new and emerging forms of community. This includes exploring how online communities support spiritual exploration and transformation and whether and how members of these virtual communities connect with others to form face-to-face, place-based communities. One early and exciting result of this effort is “Something More,” a report on how millennials are contributing to religious innovation in America.
We are energized and humbled about being part of this work to help build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. We see ourselves as only a single node in the great web of individuals and organizations around the world who are engaged in this great common work. By its very nature, this web has no center and no centralized leadership and thus empowers each of us to serve and support wherever we are and in whatever way we can.
If we truly align ourselves with that great “Something More” that is guiding us and the universe in Love and toward Love, this can be a new dawn for each of us, for the whole human family, and for this marvelous world that sustains us.