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A Faith Created by Courageous Movements

Spirituality and Social Movements

A Faith Created by Courageous Movements
Monday, November 30, 2020

In his book We Make the Road by Walking, my friend and colleague Brian McLaren describes some of the Spirit-led movements that shaped Judaism from the time of Moses, and sustained Christianity. We must remember that such movements are not simply a past occurrence, but something in which we are called to participate in our own time.

I believe that the Spirit of God works everywhere to bring and restore aliveness—through individuals, communities, institutions, and movements. Movements play a special role. In the biblical story [of Exodus], for example, Moses led a movement of liberation among oppressed slaves. They left an oppressive economy, journeyed through the wilderness, and entered a promised land where they hoped to pursue aliveness in freedom and peace. Centuries after that, the Hebrew prophets launched a series of movements based on a dream of a promised time . . . a time of justice when swords and spears, instruments of death, would be turned into plowshares and pruning hooks, instruments of aliveness [Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3]. Then came John the Baptist, a bold and nonviolent movement leader who dared to challenge the establishment of his day and call people to a movement of radical social and spiritual rethinking. . . .

When a young man named Jesus came to affiliate with John’s movement through baptism, John said, “There he is! He is the one!” Under Jesus’ leadership, the movement grew and expanded in unprecedented ways. . . . It rose again through a new generation of leaders like James, Peter, John, and Paul, who were full of the Spirit of Jesus. They created learning circles in which activists were trained to extend the movement locally, regionally, and globally. Wherever activists in this movement went, the Spirit of Jesus was alive in them, fomenting change and inspiring true aliveness. . . .

[Christianity] began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. . . . It claimed that everyone, not just an elite few, had God-given gifts to use for the common good. It exposed a system based on domination, privilege, and violence and proclaimed in its place a vision of mutual service, mutual responsibility, and peaceable neighborliness. It put people above profit, and made the audacious claim that the Earth belonged not to rich tycoons or powerful politicians, but to the Creator who loves every sparrow in the trees and every wildflower in the field. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2015), xvii–xix.

Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christianity began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement. —Brian McLaren

The Kingdom’s “Common Sense”

Jesus and the Reign of God

The Kingdom’s “Common Sense”
Friday, November 20, 2020

My friend and colleague Brian McLaren has thought deeply and practically about what Jesus means when he speaks of the “Kingdom of God.” He views it as synonymous with the Gospel itself.

Jesus proposed a radical alternative—a profoundly new framing story that he called good newsNews, of course, means a story—a story of something that has happened or is happening that you should know about. Good news, then would mean a story that you should know about because it brings hope, healing, joy, and opportunity. . . .

The term kingdom of God, which is at the heart and center of Jesus’ message in word and deed, becomes positively incandescent in this kind of framing. As a member of a little colonized nation with a framing story that refuses to be tamed by the Roman imperial narrative, Jesus bursts on the scene with this scandalous message: The time has come! Rethink everything! A radically new kind of empire is available—the empire of God has arrived! . . . Open your minds and hearts like children to see things freshly in this new way, follow me and my words, and enter this new way of living. At every point, the essence of his kingdom teaching subverts the “common sense” of the Roman Empire and all its predecessors and successors:

Don’t get revenge when wronged, but seek reconciliation.

Don’t repay violence with violence, but seek creative and transforming nonviolent alternatives.

Don’t focus on external conformity to moral codes, but on internal transformation in love.

Don’t love insiders and hate or fear outsiders, but welcome outsiders into a new “us,” a new “we,” a new humanity that celebrates diversity in the context of love for all, justice for all, and mutual respect for all.

Don’t have anxiety about money or security or pleasure at the center of your life, but trust yourself to the care of God.

Don’t live for wealth, but for the living God who loves all people, including your enemies.

Don’t hate your enemies or competitors, but love them and do to them not as they have done to you—and not before they do to you—but as you wish they would do for you. . . .

The phrase “kingdom of God” on Jesus’ lips, then, means almost the opposite of what an American like me might assume, living in the richest, most powerful nation on earth. To a citizen of Western civilization like me, kingdom language suggests order, stability, government, policy, domination, control, maybe even vengeance on rebels and threats of banishment for the uncooperative. But on Jesus’ lips, those words describe Caesar’s kingdom: God’s kingdom turns all of those associations upside down. Order becomes opportunity, stability melts into movement and change, status-quo government gives way to a revolution of community and neighborliness, policy bows to love, domination descends to service and sacrifice, control morphs into influence and inspiration, and vengeance and threats are transformed into forgiveness and blessing.

Reference:
Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: 2007), 77, 99–100, 125.

Image credit: 芥子園畫傳 Mountainside View (detail of print from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting), Juran (960–), China, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32

Public Virtue: Weekly Summary

Public Virtue

Saturday, November 7, 2020
Summary: Sunday, November 1—Friday, November 6, 2020

The mystery of the body of Christ turns the focus outward, to ask: how can I be good for the sake of my neighborhood, my city, my church, my community, and even the world? (Sunday)

Everywhere there are people who never lose hope that the values they learned in the best of times or the courage it takes to reclaim their world from the worst of times are worth the commitment of their lives. —Joan Chittister (Monday)

When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being. —Parker Palmer (Tuesday)

We must make “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) the foundation of national respect, the standard of our national discernment, the bedrock of both our personal relationships and a civilized society. Joan Chittister (Wednesday)

What if we recognize that our engagement in politics should be rooted in our participation in the Trinitarian flow of God’s love? Then everything changes. —Wes Granberg-Michaelson (Thursday)

History is continually graced with people who have been transformed and somehow learned to act beyond and outside their self-interest for the good of the world, people who clearly operated by a power larger than their own. They are exemplars of public virtue. (Friday)

 

Practice: The Seventh Story

According to CAC faculty member Brian McLaren and our mutual friend Gareth Higgins, six narratives have been driving forces in human history:

  • The first was the story of patriarchal domination
  • Oppression provoked the emergence of a revolution story
  • Others simply withdrew, believing in the righteousness of their own group, called to an isolation story
  • In the purification story, all the troubles of a powerful group were blamed on a minority
  • Some people retreated into trying to possess as much as they could: living by an accumulation story
  • Some people began to define themselves by what they had suffered, developing a victimization story

However, Brian and his friend Gareth Higgins recommend a “Seventh Story.”

But in The Seventh Story, human beings are not the protagonists. Love is.

We are not [rulers] of “our” domain, but partners in the evolution of goodness. As René Girard wrote, “What Jesus invites us to imitate is his own desire, the spirit that directs him toward the goal on which his intention is fixed: to resemble [Love] as much as possible.” [1]

The Seventh Story invites us to be participants in a great play about the evolution of the story of love. To be friends, not enemies, no matter what anybody else is doing. Not us versus them. . . .

Many of us are so immersed in the six stories of separation, selfishness, and scapegoating that some decisive action is required. . . . We invite you to the following commitments:

1: Pay attention. Alongside considering the wider world, pay attention to your soul, your neighborhood, your local and regional stories, and find others who do the same. Nurture your personal well-being and that of your community, otherwise you will neither thrive in a challenging world, nor be useful to the service of the common good.

2: Don’t pay attention. Don’t fund the six stories of separation, selfishness, and scapegoating: withhold your attention and the money you steward from any media outlet or public figure that uses fear to build an audience. . . .

3: Seek mentors who will help you discern a personal sense of calling to the common good. Your gift is connected to your wound, and the world’s great need. Serving from the place where these three intersect is the best way to heal yourself, and offer healing to others.

4: Tell the truth. In a world of competing information sources, seek wisdom above propaganda. Enlarge your frame: see the whole world as your home. Learn the difference between headlines and trendlines.

5: Learn spiritual practices that heal and offer resilience: clearings, accountability, shadow work.

6: Open yourself to seeing things through “the eyes of the other.”  Seek a friendship with someone with whom you disagree politically. Look for things to praise in others, even when they vote differently. Learn about building equitable community in which everyone has a fair stake. Don’t contribute to polarization.

7: Join or help start a circle of friends committed to the Seventh Story. Don’t journey alone. Encourage others to do the same.

References:
[1] René Girard, I See Satan Fall like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams (Orbis Books: 2001), 13.

Adapted from Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, The Seventh Story: Us, Them & the End of Violence (Brian D. McLaren and Gareth Higgins: 2018), 124, 171‒173.

For Further Study:
Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 audio.

Joan Chittister, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage (Convergent: 2019).

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (Jossey-Bass: 2011).

“Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2017). This issue includes essays from Simone Campbell, Joan Chittister, John L. Esposito, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, and angel Kyodo williams.

Richard Rohr with John Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996).

Image credit:  Untitled (detail), Wassily Kandinsky, 1913, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: What if we recognize that our engagement in politics should be rooted in our participation in the Trinitarian flow of God’s love? Then everything changes. —Wes Granberg-Michaelson

Our Spiritual Health

Wisdom in Times of Crisis

Our Spiritual Health
Thursday, July 9, 2020

Brian McLaren, a member of the CAC Living School faculty, reminds us why it matters that we pay attention to our health, not only physically but spiritually and ethically as well.

In these challenging, difficult times, we are discovering a wisdom that we needed all along, and that wisdom is that we are all connected. We are not separate. We used to think that we caught diseases as individuals: “I’m sick; you’re not.” But now we realize, no, we catch diseases as individuals who are part of families, and families who are part of cities, and cities that are part of states and nations. We realize now that our whole species can become infected, and that our whole globe can be changed because of our interconnectedness. . . .

Maybe this is also an opportunity for us to become enlightened about some other viruses that have been spreading and causing even greater damage, without being acknowledged: social and spiritual viruses that spread among us from individual to individual, from generation to generation, and are not named. We don’t organize against them, and so they continue to spread and cause all kinds of sickness [and death]. Social and spiritual viruses like racism, white supremacy, human supremacy, Christian supremacy, any kind of hostility that is spread, based on prejudice and fear.

What would happen if we said, as passionate as we are about being tested for coronavirus, we all wanted to test ourselves for these social and spiritual viruses that could be lurking inside of us? And then, when I come into your presence, I, in some way, inflict this virus on you. I make you suffer. What an awesome opportunity for us to say and begin to pray that we would be healed and cleansed, not just of a physical virus, but of these other invisible viruses that are such a huge and devastating part of human history. . . .

In this pandemic, many of us are nostalgic for the old normal. We want to get back to our favorite coffee shop, our favorite restaurant, our church service. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with so many of those desires for the old normal. But I’d like to make a proposal. If we are wise in this time, we will not go back unthinkingly to the old normal. There were problems with that old normal many of us weren’t aware of.

The old normal, when you look at it from today’s perspective, was not so great, not something to be nostalgic about, without also being deeply critical of it. As we experience discomfort in this time, let’s begin to dream of a new normal, a new normal that addresses the weaknesses and problems that were going unaddressed in the old normal. If we’re wise, we won’t go back; we’ll go forward.

References:
From Brian McLaren, “We Are All Connected,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (April 20, 2020), YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FOeCyEzbjM;

“Other Sicknesses of the Soul,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (May 6, 2020), YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3SUyoDfG-Q&list=PLiBbqGAOPnXMeKh7QaqCf9HU5ShaAEzeH&index=17; and

“Dreaming of a New Normal,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (May 6, 2020), YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weGPpvdZ058&list=PLiBbqGAOPnXMeKh7QaqCf9HU5ShaAEzeH&index=18.

Image credit: Cueva de las Manos (detail), Cañadón del Río, Santa Cruz, Argentina. Photograph copyright 2012 Pablo Gimenez.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As a spiritual practice we can wake up to the possibility of building a new order. We can improvise those possibilities; try them out in the creative microcosm of a shared public life, realizing that our way of life before the pandemic was not perfect. —Barbara Holmes
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