Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prophetic Spirituality: Changing Lives, Changing Worlds

Brian McLaren has written an excellent book called Naked Spirituality. The book focuses on twelve spiritual practices: Here (opening to God's abiding presence), Thanks (expanding our sense of gratitude and enoughness), O (soaking up the joy of life and God), sorry (living honestly and transforming wrongs), Help (empowering ourselves to ask for help from God and others), Please (relying on the support of God and others to get through difficulties), When (aspire after a better life and world), No (allowing ourselves to acknowledge pain, lament about our troubles, and refuse a problematic life and world), Why (allowing ourselves and others to ask God the difficult questions that arise from pain and doubt), Behold (mindfully noticing and appreciating the indescribable goodness of God and the world), Yes (joining and engaging in the sacred mission of God) , and [...] (enjoying moments of silence and contemplation).

All of the spiritual practices that McLaren names are wonderful. In fact, I gave the book a fawning review. And I meant every glowing word about that book. It's awesome. However, some of the spiritual practices that McLaren names are pretty conventional - and even a bit individualistic. Standard spirituality tends to focus on one's relationship with God at the exclusion of one's relationship with others and the wider world. When I picture conventional spirituality, I imagine a person listening to Gregorian chants while meditating on a line from Psalm 23. Or journaling while sipping on green tea. Or praying alone in a darkened room. Or something like that. Not that there is anything wrong with that kind of spirituality. Actually, it's a very good thing. It can help us find inner calm and serenity. But conventional spirituality tends to focus less on helping the wider world become a better place.

Don't get me wrong. It's obvious that McLaren is committed to building a better world. His book Everything Must Change is all about helping to transform the world in positive ways. That's one of the many reasons I respect McLaren so much. The problem is that he doesn't name these world-changing activities as explicitly spiritual practices. And he's not alone. In fact, I'm focusing on Naked Spiritality because this is just the latest book on spirituality that doesn't explicitly enumerate spiritual practices that involve prophetic action. While I know that McLaren is committed to peace and social justice, I'd like to see him - and other authors - specifically name these things as spiritual practices.

I'd like to suggest twelve additional spiritual practices. All of these spiritual practices involve prophetic action. They help us to connect with God by working to build a better world. Here is the list:

Love (sharing unconditional connection, support, security, etc.), Justice (building a more equitable environment on a personal, national, and global level), Mutuality (living in a way that honors and supports our interdependence), Liberation (moving from oppression to freedom), Empowerment (advocating, equipping, and gaining voice), Pride (gaining a healthy sense of self-respect), Change (transforming conflict, injustice, pain, etc. in proactive ways), Resistance (confronting people or systems that cause harm to others), Diversity (celebrating the dignity of difference), Context (honoring people's unique background, culture, race, etc.), Accountability (attending to personal responsibility and social responsibility), and Fiesta (partying as a community to celebrate the hard work of striving for greater justice and peace).

These spiritual practices can be done in a variety of ways. The list above is meant to describe broad concepts, not prescribe specific acts. The important thing isn't practicing them in any one way. The important thing is practicing them in the way that is most meaningful, faithful, and spiritual. But just in case it's helpful to move beyond the concepts, here are some examples of how these spiritual practices can be done:

Love (proactively work on improving relationships with family and friends), Justice (join a rally in favor of basic human rights), Mutuality (take turns doing the hard work as well as the fun stuff at home and work), Liberation (volunteer at a detention center that does restorative justice), Empowerment (mindfully give everyone the space and time to speak up), Pride (let LGBT youth know that they are okay - and be sure others know that, too), Change (support the work of a local domestic violence shelter), Resistance (politely yet assertively let bullies/antagonists know their behavior is inappropriate - and then help them find healthier ways to communicate), Diversity (learn more about a culture that is different from the predominate culture of your city/town/neighborhood), Context (encourage people talk about what's important to them as individuals), Accountability (ensure that personal finances and national budgets are managed in responsible ways), and Fiesta (set attainable goals and then celebrate those goals when they are reached).

These prophetic spiritual practices can help open us to the transforming presence of God that surrounds us every day. The same God who led Moses and the Egyptian slaves to freedom, continues to beckon us to greater freedom today. The same God who inspired the love and mutuality shared by Ruth and Naomi, continues to beckon us toward deeper love and mutuality today. The same God who brought the disciples of Jesus together despite their diversity, continues to beckon us together despite our diversity today. The same God who empowered Jesus to resist the injustice of the Roman Empire, continues to empower us to resist injustice today. The list could go on and on. God has been in the business of changing lives for a long time. And God is doing it right now - and every moment in life. These spiritual practices plug us into God's ongoing, transforming work in our lives. If we choose to do these practices, they will change our lives, homes, neighborhoods, and world in amazing ways.

God is ready. Are we?

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