Turning Down the Volume on the Political Noise

I like to know what’s happening in the world.  I read a great deal of news from around the world each day and follow business and cultural trends.  I have various news apps on my phone so that when I have a few minutes free, I can read more about the world.

The last few weeks, following the news has been disturbing, both emotionally and spiritually. I’m gravely concerned about human rights abuses, right-wing policies, and leaders who demonstrate disdain for people.  It’s happening in the US and in many other countries.  I want to be informed, but am demoralized by what I learn.  Reading the news in recent weeks often feels something like driving past an automobile accident:  I don’t want to look, but it’s nearly impossible to turn away.

Several of my friends have shared that they find community to be more important now than ever. They look for times to share their frustrations with friends and those they trust.  That can be an important part of getting through difficult political times.  By talking with others who share similar values we come to understand that we are not alone.

As important as community and the support of friends may be, I find that it’s not enough to turn down all the noise of events that scream for our response.  That noise can interfere with the ability maintain our day to day responsibilities and prevent us from discerning right action in our lives.

I’ve found that it’s more important for me than ever to be sure to engage in my regular spiritual practice.  Yes, in the midst of all the noise of political discord, I need to spend more time in prayer and meditation.  Taking time to allow the volume of the background noise to be turned down enables me to be more focused and centered.  When I am grounded, I am able to clearly choose what action is best for me to take in the face of social and political issues.  It also prevents me from feeling as though I’m just responding to some crazy external stimuli, like the ball in a pinball machine.

I’ve thought about the lessons I learned from a longtime activist, Father Daniel Berrigan.  Dan was very visible in the 1960’s anti-war movement.  In the 70’s, he became involved in the anti-nuclear movement.  In the 80’s, I got to know him in working with people with AIDS.  As involved as Dan was on the front line of many issues of social justice, he was also a contemplative soul and poet.  It was the time in silence and by writing poetry that he nurtured his spirit and found the strength and inspiration to respond to the critical issues he faced.  Dan knew that the way to avoid being consumed by the issues he faced was to also withdraw and be centered on a regular basis.

In order to turn down the volume of the political crises that face us and to be able to respond in a centered and focused way, I find that regular spiritual practice is critical.  To that end, I encourage my friends to take more time sitting in meditation, do another yoga class, or hike for a few hours.  Do whatever it takes to find that place of inner quiet again.  Then from that place of inner quiet and peace, you’ll be better able to respond to the challenges we face today in the midst of the world’s turmoil.

Photo credit: walter.keller via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Spirituality and Our Bodies

The words seem so very out of place, but the book begins in this way:

“Oh, kiss me!  Touch me with your lips.
Your love tastes better than the best wine!”

No, this isn’t from a romance novel or some pornographic story.  These are the first words of a book from the Bible:  The Song of Songs.  Yes, erotic love poems in the Bible!  What are they doing there?

The Song of Songs is part of the Hebrew Testament and included with what’s referred to as “wisdom literature.”  That’s right!  A long, erotic love poem is considered wisdom.

Historically, the inclusion of the Song of Songs in the Bible was controversial, especially for Christians.  It’s a poetic story to young lovers of different socio-economic classes and their erotic romance.  I suspect that most Christians have never heard a portion of the book read in church nor a sermon about it.  Yet, I find the Song of Songs to be critical for the spiritual dimension of life.

We tend to think of spirituality and spiritual practice as other worldly and detached from our bodies.  We assume that the person who is truly spiritual has transcended bodily urges.  That’s because Western culture has long held that the body is of less value than the human spirit.  This separation of the body from the human spirit makes no sense to me.

It is in our bodies that we experience the world.  When I look at these words, I’m looking at them with my body.  When I bow in prayer, it is my body that is bowing.  When I experience awe at the evening sunset, it is my body that is engaged and wrapped in awe.  Every moment of our lives in experienced in and through our bodies.  There is no experience that we can have that is not related to our bodies.  Our bodies are more than some sort of vessel for our spirits.  Our bodies are us.  When a person sees and recognizes us, they are seeing and recognizing our bodies.

The Song of Songs is all about the body:  sensuality, tenderness, and deep longing.  I contend that we are able to understand spiritual longing, spiritual union, and spiritual fulfillment because we also experience longing, union, and fulfillment in our bodies.  The Song of Songs — the best song that could be sung — causes us to consider that desires of our bodies run parallel to our spiritual desires.

What I find most important about Christian spirituality is that the heart of Christian spirituality is the belief that the Creative Energy of the Divine, the logos or Word, became flesh and lived among us.  This affirmation which begins the Gospel of John is central to understanding Christian spirituality.  It is an incarnational or embodied spirituality — experienced in every aspect of our lives including our bodies.

One of the challenges for our growth is to recognize and affirm that it is in and through our bodies that we engage in the spiritual dimension of life.  The desires and longings of our bodies, the hungers and thirsts, operate like the desires and longings of our spirits. In the end, when the same desires and longings of both body and spirit are cared for and nourished, how blessed we are as integrated people

What does it mean for you to have an embodied spirituality?

(Photo credit: Gabriele Roberti via Foter.com / CC BY-NC)

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

Posted in Spirituality | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

What Does It Mean to Be a Progressive Christian?

I sat with a small group of colleagues one Saturday to engage in the discussion.  We describe ourselves as “Progressive Christians,” but we wondered:  what does that really mean?  As expected, there were a wide range of opinions and insights.

It helps to know that all the members of the group have been engaged in ministry for a couple of decades each.  The group is diverse:  African-American, Korean, Japanese descent, and Caucasian women and men.  We each have very different theological education but we all agree that the traditional theological categories make little sense today.  The traditional categories we learned represent social contexts and understandings about life that are no longer held today.

For example, the foundation of much of Christian theology was articulated when people believed that Earth was the center of the universe and that humanity was the height of God’s creation.  Today we know that Earth is a minor planet in the far reaches of the universe and circles an ordinary star.  In addition, we understand that the ages of humans as the dominant creature characterizes this geological era, but there have been other era and other dominant creatures. Also, homo sapiens are only one species of humans in the genus of human beings.  In other words, the understanding of the human context in the universe has changed.  As Progressive Christians, we recognize that our understanding of God must also change.

As a group, it was easy for us to affirm that Christianity is but one wisdom and faith tradition that holds truth for human living.  It’s the tradition of which we are part, but that doesn’t make it better or worse that other paths, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, or Islam.

We also agreed that the essential importance of Christianity is found in the teachings of Jesus as a moral and ethical guide to living.  Throughout the teachings of Jesus, major themes are quite clear:  carrying for others, giving of self, and treating those marginalized in society with deep respect are hallmarks for what it means to be Christian.

As I thought more about this, it struck me how essentially different Progressive Christian is from the very popular American Evangelical Christian understanding of Christianity.  Among American Evangelicals, salvation in the after-life is more important than anything else.  Salvation is achieved by asking Jesus to come into one’s life and heart.  The funny thing about this Evangelical concept of salvation is that it’s not something that can be found in the teachings of Jesus.  Instead, the teachings of Jesus were real life and practical.  It’s pretty clear in the Gospel attributed to John, where Jesus is recorded as saying, “By this will others know that you are my followers:  by your love for one another.”  Even in the Gospel attributed to Matthew, the final judgment at the end of time is based on what people did for others.

I think that the faulty foundation of American Evangelical Christianity has resulted in Evangelical Christians holding positions that appear to be askew from the Biblical tradition and life in the twenty-first century.  American Evangelicals believe that Jesus was born to die for the sins of the world and so that individuals can go to heaven. If that’s true, then essentially everything that happened between his birth in Bethlehem and the cross of Calvary has not merit.    Instead, as is the practice of Evangelicals, a person can simply ask Jesus to save you and it’s all good.  There’s no need to do the difficult work of putting oneself in second place and put those in need ahead of my interests.  If a person isn’t bound to follow the mandate of Jesus to care for our neighbors as exemplified in the story of the Good Samaritan, then there’s no need to root our prejudice from one’s own life.

For me, as a Progressive Christian, what’s fundamental for being a Christian is striving to embody the way of life Jesus taught.  It’s not about pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die.  Instead, it’s the realization that God’s realm is here and now. As a Christian, it’s critical for me to live in a way that’s rooted in the care of others, our planet, and those who will come after me.  After all, that’s the way of living taught by Jesus.  In the end, my colleagues came to the same conclusion.  It’s that which makes us Progressive Christians.

What’s most important in Christianity?  Going to heaven or treating people well on Earth.

(Photo credit: the Italian voice via Foter.com / CC BY)

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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