Uniting Principles of Modern Spirituality

Originally from a Ted Talk by Sharon Brous:

Wakefulness
Hope
Mightiness
Interconnectedness


The first is wakefulness. We live in a time today in which we have unprecedented access to information about every global tragedy that happens on every corner of this Earth. Within 12 hours, 20 million people saw that image of Aylan Kurdi’s little body washed up on the Turkish shore. We all saw this picture. We saw this picture of a five-year-old child pulled out of the rubble of his building in Aleppo. And once we see these images, we are called to a certain kind of action. 

My tradition tells a story of a traveler who is walking down a road when he sees a beautiful house on fire, and he says, “How can it be that something so beautiful would burn, and nobody seems to even care?” So too we learn that our world is on fire, and it is our job to keep our hearts and our eyes open, and to recognize that it’s our responsibility to help put out the flames.

This is extremely difficult to do. Psychologists tell us that the more we learn about what’s broken in our world, the less likely we are to do anything. It’s called psychic numbing. We just shut down at a certain point. Well, somewhere along the way, our religious leaders forgot that it’s our job to make people uncomfortable. It’s our job to wake people up, to pull them out of their apathy and into the anguish, and to insist that we do what we don’t want to do and see what we do not want to see. Because we know that social change only happens when we are awake enough to see that the house is on fire.


The second principle is hope, and I want to say this about hope. Hope is not naive, and hope is not an opiate. Hope may be the single greatest act of defiance against a politics of pessimism and against a culture of despair. Because what hope does for us is it lifts us out of the container that holds us and constrains us from the outside, and says, “You can dream and think expansively again. That they cannot control in you.”

I saw hope made manifest in an African-American church in the South Side of Chicago this summer, where I brought my little girl, who is now 13 and a few inches taller than me, to hear my friend Rev. Otis Moss preach. That summer, there had already been 3,000 people shot between January and July in Chicago. We went into that church and heard Rev. Moss preach, and after he did, this choir of gorgeous women, 100 women strong, stood up and began to sing. “I need you. You need me. I love you. I need you to survive.” And I realized in that moment that this is what religion is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about giving people back a sense of purpose, a sense of hope, a sense that they and their dreams fundamentally matter in this world that tells them that they don’t matter at all.


The third principle is the principle of mightiness. There’s a rabbinic tradition that we are to walk around with two slips of paper in our pockets. One says, “I am but dust and ashes.” It’s not all about me. I can’t control everything, and I cannot do this on my own. The other slip of paper says, “For my sake the world was created.” Which is to say it’s true that I can’t do everything, but I can surely do something. I can forgive. I can love. I can show up. I can protest. I can be a part of this conversation. We even now have a religious ritual, a posture, that holds the paradox between powerlessness and power. In the Jewish community, the only time of year that we prostrate fully to the ground is during the high holy days. It’s a sign of total submission. Now in our community, when we get up off the ground, we stand with our hands raised to the heavens, and we say, “I am strong, I am mighty, and I am worthy. I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”

In a world that conspires to make us believe that we are invisible and that we are impotent, religious communities and religious ritual can remind us that for whatever amount of time we have here on this Earth, whatever gifts and blessings we were given, whatever resources we have, we can and we must use them to try to make the world a little bit more just and a little bit more loving.


The fourth and final is interconnectedness. A few years ago, there was a man walking on the beach in Alaska, when he came across a soccer ball that had some Japanese letters written on it. He took a picture of it and posted it up on social media, and a Japanese teenager contacted him. He had lost everything in the tsunami that devastated his country, but he was able to retrieve that soccer ball after it had floated all the way across the Pacific. How small our world has become. It’s so hard for us to remember how interconnected we all are as human beings. And yet, we know that it is systems of oppression that benefit the most from the lie of radical individualism.

Let me tell you how this works. I’m not supposed to care when black youth are harassed by police, because my white-looking Jewish kids probably won’t ever get pulled over for the crime of driving while black. Well, not so, because this is also my problem. And guess what? Transphobia and Islamophobia and racism of all forms, those are also all of our problems. And so too is anti-Semitism all of our problems. Because Emma Lazarus was right. 

Emma Lazarus was right when she said until all of us are free, we are none of us free. We are all in this together. And now somewhere at the intersection of these four trends, of wakefulness and hope and mightiness and interconnectedness, there is a burgeoning, multifaith justice movement in this country that is staking a claim on a countertrend, saying that religion can and must be a force for good in the world.

Contents Original Source:
TED.com: It’s Time to Reclaim and Reinvent Religion

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