Progressive Christian Channel
Spiritual Practices in an Election Year: A Q&A with Brian McLaren
Second would be the spiritual discipline of deep listening—really trying to understand the other side's concerns, fears, hopes, values, and so on. It's a hollow victory for partisans of one viewpoint or party to get their way at the expense of their neighbors, especially when their neighbors have valid concerns. In a marriage, if a husband wins every argument, he's going to lose his marriage . . . and something similar can happen politically. It's far better to look for win-win, common-good solutions.
Third would be the spiritual practice of compassion—by which I mean keeping in mind the vulnerable and the voiceless. The birds of the air and flowers of the field don't get a vote—so some of us need to include their interests in our own vote. Little children in Afghanistan or Iraq—or Iran or Gaza or Israel or Syria—don't get a vote, but their lives are profoundly affected by elections here.
Here within our borders, the children of migrant farm workers don't get a vote, nor do teenagers in our inner cities or kids growing up on top of oil shale or coal or along coastlines at low elevations. But their lives will be affected disproportionately by the prison policies or gun policies or immigration policies or energy policies that are promoted by powerful lobbyists who make big campaign contributions. So those of us who have a heart attuned to compassion need to take their needs and interests into consideration when we vote. We need to keep our circle of compassion wide.
You've said: "The spiritual life isn't an elective luxury to add on to the necessity of a theological system. I'm more and more convinced that it's actually the point." Are you saying our spirituality is more important that our theology?
That's a good question. It makes me wonder what the value is of having a correct or intelligent or rigorous theology if it isn't translated into love for God and neighbor. So I'd say it's not just a matter of one being more important than the other: it's that the point of theology is spirituality. The point of seeking and understanding God is loving God, enjoying God, being filled with God, and that of course always flows out into the way we treat neighbor, stranger, outcast, outsider, and enemy.
We're in the Easter season now. What do you think it means to live as Resurrection people?
There are two ways I could answer that. As you know, in Naked Spirituality, I present the spiritual life as a natural progression through four seasons. The first season, simplicity, could be compared to the first thirty years of Jesus' life. The second season, complexity, would be like Jesus' three years of intensive ministry. The third season, perplexity, would be like Passion Week, when things come to a head, culminating on Good Friday when it seems that the wheels come off and everything falls apart. Then, after the silence and deadness of Saturday comes a new beginning, which is like the fourth season, harmony. The quiet of Easter morning is the birth of harmony.
But there's a sense in which the whole spiritual life is a resurrection life—a life lived beyond the normal patterns of biology and survival and ego and selfish or groupish ambition. When we come to the end of ourselves and our agendas, that's like death and burial, and from that sense of failure and defeat, a new life rises. So we might say that the Easter life emerges from the tomb—expanding and deepening from simplicity to complexity to perplexity to harmony.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team after more than ten years managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of Christian Education and music/theatre programs for young people and has served as a music director for worship and special retreats.