Let The [Next] Revolution Begin!
“Whether Christian or Jewish or interfaith, movement religion was always
a reaction to specific causes…. But what movement religion lacked was
a coherent theology.” ~ Kenneth L. Woodward, Getting Religion, p. 196
When we have it all together — have all the bases covered — we have coherence. We’re in a balanced, connected, and committed state of completeness. Things make sense and we have a clear vision of how things fit together, how things interact, interconnect, and interdepend.
By definition, when we’re that state, we’re firing on all cylinders — “all systems are GO!” — as we’re vitally employing all aspects of ourselves — our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our sociability, and our spirituality. The wheels on our bus go round and round in perfect revolutions.
At those times, whether we realize it or not, we have “got religion”. Whether or not we’ve got it consciously or unconsciously, we’re experiencing a state of “coherent theology”. Theology, in the broadest sense (and the way we’re using it here, somewhat broader than according to Webster), is the study of the Cosmos and how everything works together in a holistic oneness. While we may lack the capacity to explain all of its broad features (let alone the details!), we know it when we experience it. And that’s more than enough for many of us.
Let’s go back to the quote at the top of this blog as a starting place for contemplating this idea. Kenneth Woodward was the Religion Editor at Newsweek magazine for almost 40 years, retiring in 2002. In his recent book Getting Religion, he provides a fairly encyclopedic review of America’s spiritual and religious scene for the second half of the 20th-century.
He chronicles everything from the decline of Mainline Protestantism to the ascendency of the Evangelical movements, from the Protest Movements related to Civil Rights, the War in Vietnam, and Women’s Lib to the rise of the Religious Right, from the introductions of “secular theology” and Asian spirituality to the incidence of cultism and extremist fundamentalism, — and much more.
While we find ourselves at odds with many of his interpretations and conclusions about the various episodes of the American spiritual experiences of this period, his reminder about them provides some excellent food for thought.
Take, for example, his suggestion in the quote cited above — that spiritual movements fail for lack of “coherent theology”. It suggests a powerful lesson for evaluating the viability for a spiritual “movement”. Does it address all aspects of the spiritual and human experience? Or, does it over-emphasize a particular dimension while ignoring or neglecting others?
From a retrospective view, one of the shortcomings of many 20th-century spiritual/religious movements is that they seem to aim for “The Answer” — a single, one-size-fits-all solution for happiness, well-being, salvation, etc. The problem with this is that it is sort of a “Whack-A-Mole” approach. A problem may be solved, but another pops up almost as a consequence.
During this formative period of Big Love, our intention and attempt has been to provide processes and practices that call for multiple, simultaneous, coordinated, and practical dimensions for living more spiritfully — every day in every way. We seek flexible, dynamic, personal approaches that can work for changing times, be they individual or communal.
This brings us to a second point about the opening quote. Woodward used it as a segue to introduce his chapter of “Liberation Theology”. He explains this as a movement that grew up within and out of the Latin American Catholic church — in part as a response to the liberal doctrines introduced by Vatican II and in part due to the oppressive economics and politics in Latin America in the 1970-80s.
Woodward suggests that Liberation Theology was at least partially theologically coherent (he disclaims its embrace of socialism) and appropriate for its time. The problem, he claims, was that geo-political conservatism (including John Paul II’s replacement of its leaders with traditionalist bishops) was its undoing.
We might say this another way. It is very difficult — if not impossible — to effect change from within a system. There are too many “forces” (both constituents and members of the hierarchy) who are resistant to change and/or cling to vested interests. Even if Woodward didn’t write this, it is pretty evident that institutional inertia limited the success of Liberation Theology.
This is a lesson that is repeatedly evident within the history of Christianity. The Protestant Revolution that followed Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” is an obvious case in point. Only after “the Protestors” split did the Reformation gain a foothold within Catholicism. Protestantism subsequently fragmented itself much the same way — a phenomenon that continues to this day.
Woodward begins his book with a rather nostalgic look back at his childhood. His final chapter (“Epilog”) is essentially a thinly veiled wish that we could turn back the clock to those days of yesteryear. That, of course, is not going to happen. We can’t rewind evolution — it’s a uni-directional flow, including the evolution of spirituality itself.
The wheels of evolution go round and round. If we’re to keep abreast of it spiritually (an individual activity) and religiously (a collective one), we need to keep turning, too. Without making existing practices and institutions wrong, in order to make the next revolution (the next turn of the spiritual-religious wheel) happen, we likely need to do so separate from the ones that are already spinning.
Here are two realities about religions. First, they always morph according to the changing circumstances of society. Second, they are “following” rather than “leading” indicators. That means that people who are leaders in the spiritual-religious community (all of us) need to be continuous revolutionaries. Otherwise, we are simply NOT Getting Religion.
At Big Love, we hope to be a force to help spirituality and religion to keep up with the change that has (and continues) to occur in the world. Let’s keep the wheel turning. It’s time for the [next] revolution!
Big Wheels Keep On Turning!
Olivia & Steve
It’s Your Turn!
The intensity of the call for a “Revolution” seems to be coming from many directions and in many forms these days. In a recent article in The New York Times, for example, there is a clarion wake-up call for re-energizing what we call “spiritual activism” in our spiritual-religious lives. It’s called “Is Your God Dead?” and may be found at this link.
If you’re so inclined, read it and journal about it and our blog here. Where are the similarities and differences in the call?
If you’re willing, please share your responses in the comment section under this blogpost as it appears on the Big Love Community Facebook page.
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