In this reflection I would like to offer some of the interesting feedback I have received from the previous reflections. Then I will offer my final reflection.
My daughter, Julie. commented that much of what I have written sounded like her Social Work courses at University of Calgary! She found it helpful to see issues of structural injustice in a spiritual context. I find it reassuring that our spiritual life is integrating with the world beyond our faith language.
Julie also had another important and helpful comment. She noted that I talked about my own shame. She agreed that we need to deal with our own issues, but she also encouraged me to clarify to the SoulStream Partners that feelings of shame and guilt around justice issues are not all of our own making. These debilitating reactions are also part of the way the dominant powers shape the message. For example, we are made to feel helpless in front of consumerism because it is so all-consuming (pun intended!). This makes us feel inadequate or ashamed of our powerlessness to resist it and the ways we are implicated in it. We are meant to become helpless which is exactly the position we need to resist!
Unfortunately, even justice movements can become power machines that make us feel ashamed if we are not doing everything they suggest. Along with facing our own stuff, we need to recognize and resist the ways in which structures such as religious systems push us toward shame and silence. Victims of the church (eg. women, sexually abused boys, and those who cannot “believe in” the dominant religious power) have known this kind of silencing for generations!
Probably most of this is unconscious. But Julie suggested that another unconscious way shame can creep in is that we often shame each other into silence and inaction because we are afraid that if someone chooses to speak out it will create waves that we don’t want to deal with.
Another response arrived from Doug Schroeder. Doug offered a very close-to-home example of how the views of the dominant institution (the Church) shape our behaviour. Here’s what he wrote:
“I wonder how much we have both contributed to the violence of the world and immunized ourselves against the restorative justice at the heart of God with our distorted views of the cross and the atonement. Punitive images of God make us almost smug and detached from a world that needs us to embody the compassion of God as Jesus did. Just thinking out loud.”
I thought you might find that worth chewing on! Then Doug came back with a wonderful bombshell of further reflection:
I am just beginning to come to grips with the damage we have done to God’s image, God’s gospel, and our own psyches through our penal, substitutionary, propitiatory, punitive views of the atonement and then wondering why intelligent young people are leaving this brand of faith – or any faith – behind.
Why are we not listening to how our aberrant theologies are shaping us into intolerant violent prejudicial representatives of a compassionate Jesus? Why have I not been asking these questions before? I am just beginning to wake up here. I want to be part of a sea-change that needs to take place – is taking place – in the way we understand why Jesus came and what Jesus accomplished. I am compelled to re-image God and the atonement in the church I am part of and also feel the time and circumstances are favourable.
Here are a few questions for SoulStream that came from people not part of the community. Whether or not we have consensus about these things, I think conversations and actions are worth our care and consideration. They are very specific. A few places the rubber hits the road so to speak.
- A question about justice for Transgendered people. Does SoulStream have any intake forms for courses, etc.? If so, do they ask people to declare themselves as either male or female? or is there an “other” category? Are there other ways we tend to generalize and exclude without even thinking about it?
- SoulStream seeks to be inclusive. Our 4th commitment says “we welcome all people without distinction.” Would we consider putting that commitment on our website. On the front page? Would we also comment that this includes specific groupings of people such as the LGBT+ population? The rainbow symbol is becoming a larger symbol of inclusiveness than just for LGBT+ groups. It is becoming a universal symbol of inclusiveness. Would SoulStream put a rainbow symbol on its website to declare that inclusiveness is inherent to our sense of the web of God’s life?
Then another question arises. If we take that step will we alienate people to whom we want to offer training? Is that O.K? Is it part of the suffering we pay in order to be in solidarity with those who are excluded? It was a very poignant question, given the call to weep over the ways people are excluded.
- Plain language documentation. Would we consider working hard to make our public discourse, including our website, accessible to those who read at only a low level? What might our mission statement sound like if we made it readable to people with low literacy? Maybe we could include a version like that. Or maybe, the person suggested, we could have audio files on the website for people with low literacy, or maybe we could ask CNIB how to make some of the basic things accessible to people with visual disability.
- So much that passes for good, compassionate action is only charity rather than coming alongside as allies that help empower our fellow sisters and brothers. Rather than standing with people we want to help we often want to do something for them.
Marcia Fretheim has helped us immensely with this as she has told the story of her own son. We can value being an ally to people who are devalued by the system of our culture and our churches, standing with people, even in small ways, acting in solidarity and empowerment, rather than in charity?
Will we also find a way to be an ally of creation? One way the responder mentioned was to focus not so much on trying to fix people as to listen to their story. That is a powerful way to stand beside someone and give him or her a sense of empowerment.
- I would add to this list a real commitment to inclusive language. It is a simple but powerful way to demonstrate welcome. When a SoulStream partner creates a liturgy for communion or leads a contemplative prayer experience such as a Lectio, can those who attend have confidence that the language of the prayers and Scripture readings will be as inclusive as possible? Will those who attend be able to trust that these liturgies are prepared out of care for and solidarity with those who might feel excluded with male dominant images and language of patriarchy?
My Final Reflection
It is important to come back once again to our very immediate lives. This is all we can live! We pray and act contemplatively toward what we are experiencing in the moment. It is my deep hope that these reflections have not discouraged us from living fully in the moment! With that, I believe it is also true that the natural bias of our lives is toward seeing, interpreting, and living our present experience from the surface of life – our immediate and individualistic response. It is important that we encourage each other to look more deeply. My deepest longing is that this contemplative way of “seeing” will become a heart-felt and clear expression of who SoulStream is and what SoulStream is known for.
I heard someone recently say that the direction of our economy is to outsource for cheaper labour to those places that have fewer environmental restrictions. Obvious! But the two put together like that really hit me. Then I heard yesterday that, with the growing sophistication of robotics and artificial intelligence, large masses of people will be put out of work. What then? The person suggested that we need to get past the value of work and that people no longer be compensated for work done to produce things but be compensated for being a consumer. Lord have mercy!
Sometimes I want to just prescribe! I want to be specific and tell us all what to do – how to live SoulStream! I would love to dictate that we all stand together and say “No” to the total domination of profit and economy and find ways to express that publically. I want to get specific and then say “We should…!” “We should all write our MP’s and declare that, regardless of what political party is involved, we say NO to this fixation on economics and profits.” Then when I think about it, I realize the push for cheaper and dirtier is partly an accommodation to the consumer demand for cheaper and more. So then I want to gather us together to pray inside our malls and declare that we can choose to live with less if we want to change the fixation on profit. We can’t both continue our consumer lifestyle addicted to cheaper things and whine about losing our jobs! Oh God help me!
I know that I have not been appointed to dictate and prescribe. And, better still, I know that you are too wise to let me. However, I will never give up on longing for SoulStream to find some wonderful, surprising, and healing actions. But I will give up on trying to make it happen!
So here is my final simple offering. Not new. It’s at the core of Living From the Heart. I’m almost embarrassed by its simplicity and familiarity. However, last night I saw a TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast (whose book, Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer, I have treasured for years). It encouraged me to stay simple. He reduced his talk to what we tell children to do when they are about to cross the road, “Stop! Look! Go!” So here are mine. Dare I trust you all will take this further by offering specifics within the Partner relationships you enjoy and within SoulStream as a whole community? For the sake of LOVE, I dare.
To contemplate our immediate reality from a deeper place means to “see” our experiences from two perspectives.
- First, the web of God’s loving presence holds and suffuses all of our experience.
- Secondly, the web of God’s presence is also damaged by the power structures of our world.
Every moment in our life is framed by these two deep realities. I would love for those deep perspectives to become second nature for us as contemplative Partners. I would love for us to bring to the light both the places of JOY and GRIEF for what they are.
To step into the freedom of love that allows us to move from our narrow and biased ways of seeing.
In that freedom we can be open to the Spirit to follow in any way that we are led. We can “see” each situation and then find the freedom to act in simple yet hopeful ways.
To trust each choice we make to say yes to God’s presence and to resist the domination of power, small and insignificant as each choice may seem, as a step toward the healing of the world.
This is sort of like centering prayer. Trying to evaluate progress or analyze how well we are doing is hopeless and counterproductive. Simply do it! Act and trust that one more “Yes” and one more “No” is a gift of love offered to God as part of God’s loving movement for the world.
To encourage each other as Partners in community.
It is one of the great gifts of community to move us out of our pre-conceived biases and to help us to look at life more deeply. Let’s be creative. We can do it! And even when we can’t, we can offer our longing!!