Browsing the blog archives for August, 2011

Stones of Hope?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

If ever we need mountains of despair to be hewn into stones of hope this is the moment. The unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. monument on the National Mall in Washington DC is a gift to the nation. King’s unabashed hope in our capacity to transcend differences and work for justice that celebrates our need of one another is as timely today as it was during his remarkable life. How will you honor this legacy of his?

     King once asked if you and I would make a career of humanity, committing ourselves to a noble struggle – “You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” His words are as poignant an invitation to us today as they were in 1959.

     In my thirty-one years in the United States I’ve never before experienced the despair and sense of creeping malaise that is fueled by a confluence of factors. Persistent high unemployment, widening gulfs of resources, declining home values, brinkmanship politics, rabid divisiveness, wars that are not just unfunded but morally bankrupt – this are just a few of the realities coalescing in our collective psyche at this juncture in time. 

MLK Memorial

MLK Memorial

     And yet I remain filled with hope about our potential for goodness, our innate compassion and our capacity to be part of what Dr. King described as the “arc of the moral universe” that bends towards justice. I see and hear it expressed it in the people who attend my workshops and presentations; they’re each longing to be part of a new way to be human – together.

     They’re obviously self-selecting participants on a journey of personal growth and discovery about becoming more fully alive.  But their personal quest usually reflects a profound longing for deeper inter-connection. It’s a yearning that reflects Desmond Tutu’s talk about Ubuntu – that a person is only a person in the context of other persons. Or King’s observation that, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Entrance to MLK Memorial

Entrance to MLK Memorial

     The monument unveiled on the National Mall invites us to step beyond the current mood of despair or disgust and into its invitation.  In his “I Have a Dream” speech given on the Mall in 1963, King rallied the nation with the call that “We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” You approach the site by walking through a split boulder and discover on the other side a solitary stone in which his image emerges.

     It is an image inviting us to move beyond the mire and envision the hope that becomes a reality when people of compassion and love make choices not to remain silent. It is an invitation into a collective consciousness of what exists beyond the mire of despair. Some may refer to it a quintessentially American optimism. It may be that but it is also more – it is a reminder that every thought, intention and action joins together with those of others to forge a new path.

     The new monument is nestled alongside a Japanese gift of cherry trees given as a sign of unity and peace between nations that were once at war. The spring cherry blossoms are a reminder of rebirth, renewal, beauty and hope. They are qualities that reflect our individual journey to becoming more fully alive as well as our collective human arc of becoming more fully human in our mutuality.

     The unveiling of the monument at this moment in our history re-births the timelessness of Dr. Martin Luther King’s courage, vision, leadership and abiding hope in our goodness. We best celebrate and honor his life and the monument’s invitation by asking how we each hew stones of hope.

     How will you become a stone of hope? The world needs that hope from each of us.

Post your comments about the Memorial and Stones of  Hope here 

Watch Robert discuss what it means for each of us to be a Repairer of the World – click here

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Cafeteria Spirituality?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

Who would have imagined that a Mormon candidate for the Presidency of the United States would be mainstreaming cafeteria spirituality? John Huntsman, the former Governor of Utah, is doing just that and giving voice to the nuanced and rich spiritual practices of tens of millions of Americans.

Huntsman says that his Mormon practices are “tough to define” and that he gets “satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies.”  That may be startling to hear from a Mormon because it upends what many Americans perceive as monolithic Mormonism. Huntsman’s courage in naming his truth reflects the satisfaction he describes as much as it breaks open stereotypes about Mormons and spirituality.

Is Huntsman just a postmodern spiritual person? He describes himself as more spiritual than religious but so do countless numbers of people who, like him, profess a primary grounding in the teachings of one tradition.

This so-called cafeteria spirituality can be more aptly thought of as a balanced spirituality. It describes those who, like Huntsman, are secure in their Christian, Jewish or Mormon identity but know that the spiritual practices, wisdom and mystical truths revealed in other traditions enhance rather detract from their spirituality. They are not fearful that life-giving transformative truths are revealed beyond their chosen or cultural religious background.  

A few years ago I sat with a group of 30 people exploring membership in a Christian church. Every person spoke of their spiritual journey being enriched by practices learned from the spiritual wisdom of traditions as diverse as Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Wiccan to name just a few. The fear expressed by each person in the room was that they would be asked to abandon or never speak of those riches in their new spiritual community. They were not interested in playing God with truth or being agents of religious certitude.

Those who are more spiritual than religious yet choose to be religiously affiliated are less likely to be doctrinaire because they know that eternal truths are not revealed in pronouncements; they have distinguished between religion’s institutional needs and the journey of the spirit. They have learned the importance of navigating competing truths and intuitively settling on core truths. They’re more likely to place their energy in life-giving pursuits than those that are negative.

Spirituality is after all about the “breath of life” – by its nature it invites expansiveness and inquisitiveness. John Huntsman’s truth-telling invites an expansive embrace of spirituality as part of the reality of American life. 

So where do you place yourself on this spectrum?

Share your story of Cafeteria Spirituality or Balanced Spirituality here

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