Author and counselor "Tom Norris" brings a fresh perspective to the topic of U Universalism.
With eight billion people on the planet, and that number growing, living (loving) together is a survival essential. A Fresh Cup Of Tolerance, Tom Norris's follow up book to A Fresh Cup Of Counseling, focuses on how we can not only survive, but thrive. The book draws from myriad spiritual foundations from Native American, Asian, Neopagan, Judeo-Christian, and Islamic traditions. Pragmatic and straightforward, it addresses the most pressing global dilemmas of our time: environment, globalization, feminism and gender issues, religious strife, oppression, poverty, war, and prejudice. His book teaches us how Universalism can offer a pathway to hope.
Tom has taught in the Religious Studies Department at Florida International University since 2005,
He also taught psychology courses at St. Thomas University and Miami International University. He currently teaches World Religions, Introduction to Religion, and Liberation Theology at Florida University. With 51 years of counseling experience, he is the head of the spiritual and pastoral counseling agency, and Inner Life Transformations, which provides online counseling for people worldwide.
Continue reading for an exclusive interview.
Tell us a bit about your background.
When I was a kid, we moved a lot. Although it was hard having to fit in with a new school and new friends every few years, I also encountered a great diversity of people and places in my young life which certainly affected my outlook on people and the world. At the same time, I have always been fascinated by people, especially people from other cultures than my early upbringing in the 1950s white world of Minnesota. When we moved, my parents were not particular about which Protestant Church we attended as long as they liked the minister and the people in the congregation. So, in these northern, relatively liberal denominations with their wonderful pastors and Sunday School teachers, I have been a Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregationalist. I never saw a fig’s worth of difference between them, and it took graduate school for me to realize they had doctrinal differences. Another step on my path to Universalism.
In 1970, there was not much you could do with an English Literature degree, so I found a job in Delaware as a Social Worker in Child Protective Services. Little did I know how this work would define the rest of my career as a child advocate. It shaped all my counseling work in the areas of child abuse, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, adult survivors of abuse, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress, Disorder), and trauma-based addictions. In 1976, I completed a Master’s Degree of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, Florida. I continued my advocacy work by creating and running programs on domestic violence, sexual abuse and assault, codependency, child abuse, and treating sex offenders and spouse abusers.
In the late 1980s, I underwent a powerful spiritual awakening. As part of this awakening, I realized that psychotherapy was a powerful healing tool but had its limitations. Many of my clients seemed to hit a wall somewhere in the psychotherapy process, as had I in my own therapy as an incest survivor. Since the spiritual work seemed so healing for me, I wondered if it would also help my clients. So I began to bring in some spiritual tools and concepts that helped me, and my clients loved it. Moreover, their therapy progressed two to three times faster than under traditional psychotherapy, and I haven’t looked back since. I was now a full-fledged spiritual counselor.
In 1992, I founded Medicine Signs Spiritual Center, a Universalist Church and teaching center. For thirty years, we have helped and taught people worldwide and throughout the United States. In 1996, I received a call to the ministry, entered The Florida Center for Theological Studies, and received a Masters of Divinity (2003) and a Doctor of Ministry (2006). I have taught psychology and religion for over thirty years at several universities, and currently teach “World Religions” and “Introduction to Religion” at Florida International University.
Recently moving from South Florida, I am now a resident of Alabama, happily living with my amazing wife of twenty-five years, Cathy. Cathy is also a Universalist minister and a contributor to A Fresh Cup of Tolerance. Finally, I am the proud parent of two children and four grandchildren.
What was your impetus for writing “A Fresh Cup of Tolerance?”
Coupled with my liberal Christian upbringing, my studies of many spiritual traditions and their founders, and becoming a student of and participant in the Lakota religion, I encountered a persistent theme and message. All the great teachers and traditions carried similar messages: love creation, love the Creator, love each other, and love yourself as a creation of the Creator. Whether it was Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Moses, White Buffalo Calf Woman, the Goddess, Krishna, Quetzalcoatl, and so on, the message of love and justice was the same. A Fresh Cup of Tolerance is subtitled Universalism: The New Religion of Tolerance. It outlines the theology of this new religious movement.
This book seems incredibly timely; tell us a bit about it.
When I began writing the book as part of my doctoral dissertation, many of us saw the early signs of divisions within our society after 911 and the election of Barack Obama. Its completion coincided with the Trump Era, where cultural and political differences soon turned into culture wars. We used to have differences in opinion; now, we have enemies. This appears to be a worldwide phenomenon as we witness the rise of authoritarianism in direct conflict with democracies. All of this is in direct contradiction with Universalist principles. In Universalism, we assert we have the gospel (good news), too. We are all brothers and sisters!
Religious intolerance, racism, and xenophobia (fear of the other) are nothing new in America. We have a long history of oppression against African Americans, Native Americans, new immigrant groups, Catholics, and Jews. However, the hope and beauty of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution is the striving for a more perfect union. So, likewise, in Universalism, our hope and faith are to bring out our better angels by reminding us that whatever Creator God one worships, the Creator created everyone and everything. So, when people ask me why I’m a Universalist, I reply because God, the Creator of all things, is a Universalist.
What surprised you most about writing this book?
For years I sensed I had a book in me but had no clue what it was about. Things were simmering in the stew for a long time, but the stew was not going to be ready until it was ready. One day it was ready, and I began writing. A chapter appeared. From that, I could see what would go before the chapter and what would come after. Piece by piece, chapter by chapter, the book emerged.
In the spiritual world I inhabit, there is a belief in divine guidance. Many times an entire chapter would unfold in one sitting. It was almost trancelike, and I clearly felt that much of the writing was not only mine but the creation of my spiritual guides and teachers. We were collaborators in authorship. So it is not just my message, but the message from the Creator as well.
Who would you say is your target audience?
This book is for a general audience interested in religion, spirituality, politics, and culture. It will also appeal to academics in the field, as I have made sure that I carefully referenced all sources so that they can observe the authenticity of its academic scholarship.
What message(s) would like readers to come away with?
Our ability to learn to live (love) together is essential to our survival and integrity as humans.
Do you have any other projects coming up?
Yes, I just completed the second book in my Fresh Cup Series, A Fresh Cup of Counseling: A Handbook of Spiritual Counseling. My publisher again is Wipf and Stock Publishing, and the book is available on Amazon and all major booksellers.
I am currently working on two more books. First, A Fresh Cup of Spirituality: 52 Ways in 52 Weeks to Transform Your Life will introduce principles, exercises, teachings, meditations, books, and movies through weekly practices from all the great teachers and traditions (Native American, Buddhist, Judeo-Christian, Neopagan, Islam, Hindu, and so on).
The second book is A Fresh Cup of Liberation: 21st Century Liberation Theology.
For more information please visit: https://www.afreshcupseries.com/