This week Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry will convene the inaugural symposium of The Center for Religious Wisdom and World Affairs. Everyone on campus is infused with a palpable excitement about the collaboration of faculty, students, staff, scholars and religious leaders from around world and their engagement of the subject of homelessness. The Center synthesizes three resources – civically engaged academic scholarship, faith-based action and theological education. It seeks to help faith-based leaders and activists become more thoughtful in their social action; scholars to become more relevant in their research and attentive to practical application of their thought; and students to learn from this interchange and become smart and effective “public” theologians capable of presenting the wisdom of religious traditions to the broader community.
As we move into the launch of this new and innovative endeavor I am curious about whether or not our liturgies in our faith communities take seriously this idea of religious wisdom engaging world affairs? Does the hymnody of the week speak to the news cycle of that week, while at the same time address the broad existential realities of the human condition? Is the preaching informing a response to moral questions about the economy or military acts? If the church is a community of people bond together by their willingness to journey into the meaning and mystery of God, then should not our corporate worship experiences be directed toward the meaning of God as it relates to our present realities (Spong 2001)? This work of engaging society in gospel values that the new center is undertaking should be a part of the work of every local congregation.
I believe our world would change drastically if only the wisdom found in our religious traditions was lifted to the forefront of public discourse. Postmodern culture is one where social identity is formed through mass –mediated images and where culture and economy have merged to form a single sphere (hooks 1990). The mass media dwells on and perpetuates an ethic of domination and violence because our image makers have more intimate knowledge of these realities than they have with the realities of love (hooks 2000). Every major religion has some teaching on self-love and neighbor love, these values alone have the potential of reshaping our world toward a more just and humane society. If the work of the image makers was informed by a love ethic they would consider it important to think critically about the images they are creating. The shape of our culture would be completely different if religion and its values began to inform how we think and act in everyday life.
Eric Lincoln suggests that viable religion has a working reciprocity with the culture that produces it or with which it interacts (Lincoln 1984). What causes us to be a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple that is alive, vibrant, and engaged in relevant work, is our ability to present a clear message of how our spiritual tradition offers a preferable picture of society. We become prophetic as a people when we threaten culture’s power structure by holding up a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads (Pearce 2002). There is a need to revitalize the prophetic witness of religion in today’s culture, and endeavors such as The Center for Religious Wisdom and World Affairs are powerful answers to that call. I wonder what it would look like for our local congregations to engage the work of public witness in ways that lift gospel values to the forefront of public discourse? How would the sociopolitical landscape of our cities, states and country be different if we took seriously the task of emphasizing in the commons the best values and norms of our various religious traditions? This week as you contemplate the liturgical life of your local community I invite you to ask these and other questions that will spur an active engagement in the betterment of the world.
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
hooks, bell. 2000. All About Love: New Visions. New York: HarperCollins.
—. 1990. Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End Press.
Lincoln, C.Eric. 1984. Race, Religion, and the Continuing American Dilemma. New York: Hill and Wang.
Pearce, Joseph Clinton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street press.
Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.