Friday, July 24, 2015

It's popular, but . . .

      A couple of weeks ago I heard a phrase that I really found thought-provoking.  The context was a sermon at St. John's Cathedral in Denver.  The preacher was Jadon Hartsuff, one of the clergy on staff.  The phrase was "spiritual but not rigorous".  NO, not "spiritual but not religious", but "spiritual but not rigorous". I must apologize to Jadon that I was so taken by the phrase that I remember little else about the sermon; I do, however, want to credit him!
      Two days before, I had written the reflection for this newsletter where I had discussed the "Nones" -- those who claim to have no religious affiliation.*  I had wondered whether or not, based on a piece by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, their dissatisfaction with religion might have had something to do with a superficial/shallow worship experience.  But I know, too, that many folks--especially the last couple of generations--are hungry to put their convictions to work.  In other words, religious traditions that demand little have shown marked declines in affiliation. And those that make demands seem to grow.  And the demands may, or may not, be to our individual likings; they may be demands to participate, for example, on opposite ends of the socio-political spectrum.  The underlying theme seems to be "walk the talk!"
      I had these thoughts rattling around in my head this morning as I went to Metro Caring, the hunger relief organization where I take volunteers every month.  This morning, aside from the usual Friday crowd, there were three young women -- probably middle-school age -- who were a part of the volunteer corps.  I observed them all morning.  They chipped in wherever they were needed, seemingly without a lot of direction.  They helped stock shelves; they helped with the folks who were coming through to get food; they were cheerful.  I didn't have a chance to ask them WHY they were there.  (I think one of their moms was along, and helping.)  But I couldn't help but think that they were learning, at a young age, both what it meant to be in need -- and how that condition can strike "all sorts and conditions" of people -- as well as how, concretely and immediately, to help address that need
      When I left Metro Caring, I turned on the radio.  One of the songs that played as I was returning to DU was singer/songwriter John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change."  It was released in 2006 and made its way to the top ranks of many of the music charts, spending some time at #1 on the US Billboard American Contemporary list. The 
lyrics catalog a lot of the ills of society and the world that face "our generation" (i.e., Mayer's generation).  It's a popular song, but . . . it's the refrain that has always stuck in my craw (to use an OLD phrase!):  "So we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change".  He sings that "One day our generation is going to rule the population".  I must say that a generation that simply "waits" for the world to change isn't one that I'd want to rule.
      I would hope that the three girls I saw this morning are not going to "wait for the world to change"; they seemed to be engaged in making some change.  I think that is what we need to be doing, both as spiritual and educational leaders: educating and preaching--demanding--some rigor.  My reading of the demographics is that Mayer's generation wants to do more than "wait" (despite his hubris in speaking for it).  It is up to all of us to ensure that there are plenty of concrete opportunities and compelling rationale to give them hope that there is valuable work to do . . . AND THAT THEY--AND WE-- CAN DO SOMETHING.  If we don't take up that challenge, we are simply like a penny, waiting for change.  We'll wait in vain. 

       And we don't have to.


* To (re-)read that last reflection, see "Lead to Gold".

Friday, July 10, 2015

Lead to Gold

     In this issue of the newsletter, I'm going to start with a long piece from Rabbi Rami Shapiro's column from the July/August issue of "Spirituality and Health" (p.17).  His column is generally a series of questions posed to him, and his answers:

I attend [my place of worship] every [week] and love my faith, but find the worship lacking.  Any idea what might be missing?

What's missing, I suspect is alchemy--transforming the lead of self into the gold of spirit. Too many houses of worship have replaced poetry with propaganda, spontaneous passion with scripted emotionality, and self-transcending ecstasy with self-conscious piety.  Religion has been robbed of its punch and purpose.  Myth and story are mistaken for science and history.  Teachings to wake you up are replaced by cliches that put you to sleep.  Music to melt the ego is exchanged for kitsch that reinforces it.  Chanting that uplifts the soul is reduced to responsive readings that flattens it.  And silence, the true leaven of the spirit, is banished almost completely.  If religion is to be more than an arm of commerce and politics it must reclaim and reimagine its ancient and timeless tools--myth, story, parable, music, chant and silence--and use them to challenge ignorance, injustice, barbarism, and uncritical thinking rather than promote these in the name of faith.

         There's much in what Rabbi Rami writes that resonates with my experience of, and research about, contemporary religion.  I suspect that the increase in the "Nones" (those people who identify as "None of the Above" on the faith-tradition checklist is a reflection of shallow, or substance-light, religious experiences.  But I also think that the questioner above is representative of all of us at some point or another.  We do face periods of stagnation or derailment   And it might be just those times when stepping away and re-evaluating what we're seeking and why might the ticket home again.  We may realize that the questions and answers of one period of our life may no longer be the same as those we face now.
         The sense of dis-ease may be the meditation bell that calls us back to ourselves.