Spirituality Transforming Religion

prayingheadsReligion is one of the most polarizing topics in the world. Not just in the commons but in particular religious spaces that claim the same spiritual origins, people are constantly divided and dividing over matters of religion. Religion essentially involves the institutionalization of rites, rituals, and dogmas, and this institutionalization is precisely what makes unity difficult (Bridges 2001). Institutions, and in some cases, individuals, begin to see themselves as guardians of unchanging spiritual realities codified in certain, often creedal, language that is itself immutable and inerrant. This language and these creeds become sacrosanct and any more thought on a particular matter is then deemed heretical and anyone who dares to challenge them a heretic. Religion forces people to play the dangerous game of who is in and who is out. Creeds by definition are always barrier-building vehicles. They are ecclesiastical attempts to draw the theological lines of division (Spong, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic 2013).  No religious creed is a full statement of faith as they are all communal responses to particular arguments. Anything that is undebated in a community has no creedal response and thus the totality of spiritual understanding cannot be addressed in any one creed or even in several creeds (Spong, A New Christianity For A New World 2001).

Spirituality is, in its broadest sense, the understanding of how life should be lived and our attempts to live it that way (Gottlieb 2013).  Unlike religion, spirituality is centered on the questions, the journey, and the process, not checking the boxes of repeating the prescribed answers. In this way, our spirituality is the fount and source of life.  Spirituality is the method and manner by which the ultimately real actually touches the depth of being of the human personality, transforms it, and causes it to long for true community (Bridges 2001).  Our spirituality enlarges us by allowing us to sit with the big questions of life and journey alongside others who are sitting with those questions in effort to live authentically and faithfully in response to their understanding of God and their place in the cosmos.  Authentic spirituality sanctifies, as it is the soul’s journey.  While religion helps to inform the journey, spirituality is the journey. Religion refers to any organized, structured, traditional religion, whereas spirituality embraces the freedom of the human spirit to encounter the Divine in surprisingly unexpected ways (Hartin 2010). Truly spiritual people become inspired (in spirited) to be, while religion is the doing or response to that being. Spirituality exists both inside and outside of the impenetrable boundaries created by the dogma and creeds of religion. Spirituality is fluid, because it is faith seeking understanding.

rainThe task of the liturgist is to craft and lead religious rites and rituals that lift the spirituality of a community. To find in a community’s dogma the transformative life-giving substance that brings practitioners of the faith to an experience with the Divine that promotes the well-being of the individual so that the individual can transform the collective.  The true liturgist is both a technician of the sacred and a practitioner of spirit. On one hand, the liturgist knows the technical functions of ritual and understands how to navigate them, while on the other hand is fully connected to the Wellspring of Life. Much of the division and polarization we see in the world comes from the hubris of religion that is unmitigated by the humility of spirituality. When our creeds and customs are not in conversation with ongoing redemptive reforming encounters with the Divine, unchecked egos will always look for a way to dominate and subjugate others.

Internal alertness to the critique of our institutions as bastions of orthodoxy verses living communities of transformation is the call of day. The task of defining faith in each generation is a difficult one. The liturgist is constantly defining faith in the structures and execution of communal worship. Heresies are beliefs said to be in opposition to the teachings of the religion. By this definition anything we hold as orthodox was in some historical context considered heretical, because the teachings of the church have changed over time. In our time heresy may be a virtue and not a liability if we begin to search for the places where our religion has both portrayed and betrayed the true Gospel.

I invite you to ask yourself where has your religion been in opposition of true spirituality?  How can you bring a corrective lens to your community of faith?  How do we revitalize our collective religious practices with fresh invigorating spirituality?

 

Please feel free to comment below.

 

 

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Bridges, Flora Wilson. 2001. Resurrection Song: African American Spirituality. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Gottlieb, Roger S. 2013. Spirituality: What it is and Why is Matters. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hartin, Patrick J. 2010. Exploring the Spirituality of the Gospels. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.

—. 2013. The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. New York New York: HarperOne.

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Toward a More Just and Humane World

peace-waterThe liturgist is one who takes the voice of the people and lifts it to the Divine, while bringing the heart of God to the people. This task is challenging in a world where it would seem that the people are so fragmented and fractured by the polarity of us and them.  Places of worship which should be characterized by withness lose their witness when unity succumbs to the ugly realities of othering as a community norm.  The church must be a community of people bound together by their willingness to journey as one into the meaning and mystery of the sacred. The role of spiritual communities on this journey is to be the place where the disparate parts of our humanity can be bound together and then kept from being separated again. The journey engaged must take everyone away from that place where preservation of the institution determines our ultimate values and witness, and our norms become more important than the welcoming of others. In fact, life giving love is manifested in the human willingness to venture beyond the boundaries of safety, to risk losing ourselves, and even in the desire to explore the crevices of the unknown (Spong 2002).

If you are unsure if you are really working toward a more loving, just, and humane world in your spiritual context or as an individual, ask yourself what have we/I given up to include this person or these persons?  If it has not cost you anything to embrace the other, you have not embraced them at all, they have merely assimilated to the dominant culture, and left a part of their personhood and full humanity behind. This is antithetical to the mission of spirituality that we engage as communities of faith. Rather than asking people to be bifurcated we are tasked with calling people to be integrated, whole, and holy. The church’s task is to assist its people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity in light of sacred text. earth_sky_main This plumbing of our humanity with the light of Gospel leads to the discovery of transcendence, mystery, being, and love. This is the love that whole and holy humans extend to the world (Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die 1998).

One of the greatest hindrances to building environments of Justice is the inability of dominant cultures to take responsibility for shameless privilege and arrogant elitism of being in power. The successful liturgist crafts moments of corporate worship in a way where all are confronted and accept culpability for the inexorable price people on the margins are forced to pay to ensure the primacy of dominant cultures.  A true liturgist must always engage a sociopolitical analysis of wholeness. This analysis makes the faithful community able to confront racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and any other privilege visited upon members of the non-dominant culture (Douglas, The Black Christ 1994).  Through creative engagement of prayer, praise, prayer, sermon, sacrament, or spiritual ecstasy the liturgist helps guide the community toward a place of freedom for each to be their highest self. In the individual highest self is the ability to discover the collective highest self.

When spiritual communities are invited to be their highest collective self (whether it be a church, university, or nonprofit) they become that people called into being by the power and love of God to share in God’s revolutionary activity for the liberation of man. This work of liberation toward a more just and humane world cannot be thwarted by the culture of our institutions being owned by dominating groups who continually marginalize and disenfranchise those who institution considers other. Since culture is the basis of all ideas, images, and actions whatever mythology, history, social organization, creative motif, and ethos that governs the institution, the liturgist undertakes the task of cultural production at every corporate gathering (Cone 1997). This task is not easy, but it is necessary. I invite you to think about where your spiritual community is portraying the gospel narrative in building a just and humane world and where you have a growing edge. Remember what you think about you bring about because you are the thinker that thinks the thought, that creates the thing!

 

Please feel welcomed to comment below!

Peace is possible,

+Donalson

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black power. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .

—. 1994. The Black Christ. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Spong, John Shelby. 2002. A New Christianity for a New World. New York: Harper SanFransico.

—. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.

 

 

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Microagressions and Microinvalidations In Religious Institutions

chaliceMicroaggressions and microinvalidations are inclusive of, but not limited to issues of race.  They also appear in religious institutions where people of a dominant culture or ideologies are unable to own their privilege and unwilling to divest themselves of said privilege in dealing with those who’s personhood is marginalized within any context.  The egregious effects of these marginalizing and dismissive moments are multiplied when a person experiences the intersectionality of multiple burdens. When a person is Black, from a non-dominant religious tradition, female, and maybe, in the case of higher education, non-tenured, these lived realities add up to creating environments that are at best difficult to navigate.

Religious institutions such as churches, universities, and hospitals are often centers of ideological hegemony. Those systems of practices, meanings, and value which provide legitimacy to the dominant society’s institutional arrangements and interest are covertly communicated through microaggressions which serve to validate and make legitimate oppressive beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. This is often carried out in religious institutions under the false pretense of progressive liberalism or the cover of conservativism. Microagressions are brief, everyday exchanges, that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group affiliation, while microinvalidations invalidate, negate, or exclude thoughts, feelings, and experiential realities of targeted parties (Yarber 2015). Such is the experience of minoritized people in world; but the emotional and mental toll of these experienced is magnified when the safety of a religious space is diminished because of these experiences.

Culture is the totality of any given groups way of life and comprises a people’s total social heritage, including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, social organization and traditions (Douglas 1999). Whether or not an organization claims to be religious in its aim, expression, or beliefs, that organization is still a repository of culture. Far too often the culture of the organization takes on the complexion of the dominant power group of that culture.  This cultural identity serves as a barrier to the success of non-dominant people within that organization or community. Most people within a dominant culture fail to understand this phenomenon as privilege because privilege and supremacy are far too often valorized and encoded in justice or faithfulness language. For those who have had marginality thrust upon them the experience is often a painful burden. It is of great emotional and mental anguish to be tolerated, but not fully recognized, particularly in a religious context (Laurent A. Parks Daloz 1996).

As a Protestant Black Pentecostal Bishop, working in a Catholic institution dedicated to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, I understand clearly the effects of microaggressions and microinvalidations. I also see the impact of these interactions on my colleagues who are woman. I am aware of and mourn with those who encounter the realities of being openly LBGTQ+ membersLords-Supper-Church-Stock-Photos of communities who do not affirm their sacred worth. As a liturgist, I am committed to finding pathways of healing for all people when we as community gather in worship.  The music, the gathering, the shared meal, and the story is our best opportunity to welcome everyone to the table.

A welcome table is not a place for erasure of our contradictory personhoods; it is the place where ALL of who we are is welcome to the table. We are never in worship asked to be less of our authentic selves, instead we are invited to express our whole self wholly and as Holy!  Finding common ethical and behavioral ground is as important to the survival of the community as the theology of the welcoming table is to the creation of a community (Flunder 2005). It is not enough to say everyone is welcome; we must commit to allowing each person to maintain their full authentic voice at the table without fear of aggression or invalidation if there is to be any hope for our religious communities to survive.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .

Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where The Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgram Press.

Laurent A. Parks Daloz, Cheryl H. Keen, James P. Keen, Sharon Daloz Parks. 1996. Common Fire. Boston: Beacon Press.

Yarber, Cody J Sanders & Angela. 2015. Microagressions in Ministry . Louisville : Westminster John knox Press.

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Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr 50 Years Later

martin-luther-king-jr-quotesFifty years ago this week, the greatest American prophetic voice of the twentieth century was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the preeminent prognosticator of justice produced by the democratic experiment known as the United States of America.  The prophet is a person who threatens culture’s power structure by holding up a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads. History reveals that culture kills such prophets, and having killed the prophet to be rid of their threat, that culture then builds a mythology through which that prophet can be reformed from cultural critic into a cultural supporter (Pearce 2002). In fact, nearly all great movements are founded by prophetic genius, however the pioneering work of a prophetic genius establishing a mode of thought is often co-opted by lesser intellectuals. The army of lessor intellects scatter the thought broadcast and it becomes a permanent, yet distorted, factor in the broader culture (Dresser 1895). Such is the tragic case of Dr. King. While we celebrate him as a hero, the man we celebrate is monstrously abbreviated by our need to ignore the radicalism of his message and assuage the guilt we have for not embodying the fullness of his challenge to our culture.

While it would be easy to reduce King’s message to a dream about racial equality, in reality this academic rhetorician had a very nuanced and sophisticated Theo-political message that cannot be truncated to the issue of race. Just as we are together with our Jewish siblings celebrating Passover this week, which also cannot be truncated to an issue of racial inequality, both are direct responses to the evils of empire. It is obvious that the narrative of Passover moves ultimately to it’s own ratification of empire, but at its origin  it is a resistance moment.  As much as we are tempted to limit these historical movements to the triumph of race, both stories are born in the economic injustice of a wicked empire. mlk-1965-selma-montgomery-march-PProphetic religious tradition is always centered in resistance. Resistance is the physical, overt expression of an inner attitude, so in the tradition of Moses, Martin Luther King Jr. taught a generation of Americans how to engage a public theology of resistance (Thurman 1976).  King’s great contribution to the whole of Christianity is to remind The Church that we must insist upon both this-worldly liberation and otherworldly salvation as the proper loci of the message of Jesus (West 2002).

Volumes have been written on the task of The Church. Many argue that sole purpose of The Church is salvation of the soul for eternal security, while others believe the primary task of The Church is to transform the society. True religion understands existential freedom and social freedom are inseparable. In fact, social freedom is a natural outgrowth of existential freedom, for existential freedom is the fount of all social liberation. As Dr. King led the charge against imperialism, materialism, militarism, and racism he did so because He understand that salvation of the soul is incomplete without deliverance from oppression. Taking seriously the person and work of Jesus meant for Dr. King to preach the gospel to the poor.  It was while working The Poor People’s Campaign he was assassinated, not for fighting on behalf of Black people, but because any prophet who speaks back to the empire will always find themselves an enemy of the state.

mlk_16thstchurchFifty years after his murder many find ourselves wondering if The Church has really embraced the legacy of Dr. King or have we allowed his legacy to be hijacked and sanitized to the point that we have lost the prophetic critique that was true of his words and work? For King, the Kingdom [sic] of God is neither the thesis of individual enterprise nor the antithesis of collective enterprise, but a synthesis which reconciles the truths of both (Jr. 2015). How will your commemoration of Dr. King this week live into the theological depth and significance of this prophetic genius? It would be a grave error for us in our local congregations to stop at anti-racism work and fail to engage the critical work of dismantling all the ways in which our local congregations and communities are complicit in structures which are contrary to redemptive message of Jesus the Divine Liberator. The essential challenge of this season of commemoration is to ignite the hearts of each parishioner with the fire of the prophetic in new and living ways.

 

Please feel free to post your thoughts below!

 

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Dresser, Annetta Gertrude. 1895. The Philosophy of P.P. Quimby. Boston: The Builders Press.

Jr., Martin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornell West. Boston: Beacon Press.

Pearce, Joseph Chilton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street Press.

Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.

West, Cornel. 2002. Prophsey Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity . Louiseville: John Knox Press.

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