Marcia Falk interview on ‘The Days Between’

Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Whatever your faith and whatever the season, Marcia Falk has blessings, poems and spiritual guidance to help you through a time of reflection and renewal. Her new book is called, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season.

As the subtitle indicates, this is a series of reflections, readings, blessings and prayers appropriate to each day from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. But this book also is full of timeless spiritual wisdom, eloquently signaled in these concise lines. Consider this eight-line reading that Falk calls “Turning the Heart.”

Slow spin of earth
against sky—

imperceptible yet
making the days.

One stone tossed
into the current,

and the river, ever-
so-slightly, rising.

.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Marcia Falk. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH MARCIA FALK ABOUT ‘THE DAYS BETWEEN’

DAVID: Your website, MarciaFalk.com, describes you as “Poet, Painter, Judaic Scholar.” We will include a photo of your book’s front cover, which features your watercolor-and-pencil work, called “Gilead Apples.” Your career is so varied. How do you describe your overall body of work to audiences, when you tour and talk about your new book?

Marcia Falk, photo used with author's permission.

Marcia Falk, photo used with author’s permission.

MARCIA: I would say that I am a creative artist, a poet and a translator with a strong scholarly background in the work I do. I’ve brought together the literary world and the world of scholarship in my work interpreting and recreating Jewish liturgy from a non-hierarchical perspective. I don’t just sit down and write liturgy. Everything I do is based in the tradition.

DAVID: Evidence of your very thoughtful process is that your books take many years to complete. Probably your most famous book—at least one that has been on my own reference shelf for many years—is your rendering of The Song of Songs.

MARCIA: That has been in print for almost four decades and it has migrated through a number of publishers over the years. It is available today from Brandeis University Press. I began that work when I was a graduate student in English and comparative literature at Stanford, independent studies in three different areas at once: I was in a poetry translation workshop and I was doing an independent study in American poets and then—and this is the most important thing—I had decided to go back and study the original Hebrew Song of Songs, which of course I had known since childhood in my Jewish background.

I remembered The Song of Songs as very musical and lyrical and I already loved the book but I had never studied it. It is an extremely different book linguistically. I worked with a Bible scholar, sitting together and reading this book. I researched every word and phrase and never thought about translating it. I was just absorbing the book. And then one night my translation workshop had an evening when we were sharing our work. When my turn came, I said, “I don’t have anything to show. I’ve spent all my time studying this wonderful book and it’s completely taken over my life.” I began to talk about The Song of Songs and how they couldn’t understand this aspect of it from the King James Version or they would miss this aspect in the Revised Standard Version. I was talking to them about what’s in the original Hebrew.

That’s when I realized that I really should translate this book that had become such a big part of my life. And, that took me years. I went to Israel. I wanted to study at the feet of the great Bible scholars there. I wanted their approval that I was on the right track. Eventually my translation became my doctoral dissertation, the translation accompanied by a commentary.

DAVID: That’s a terrific story because it conveys to our readers the great care and the long years you spend on your work. Let’s point out that I’m certainly not alone in praising The Song of Songs. A very long list of great literary lights have praised that book, including Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer who wrote about your book, “I thought until now that the Song of Songs could not be translated better than the King James Version. Marcia Falk really managed to do an exceptional poetic job. She has great power in her language.”

So, then, leaping forward to the mid 1990s, you produced the big Book of Blessings.

MARCIA: I actually began writing that book in 1983. It was a 13-year project; The Book of Blessings finally came out in 1996. That book is a recreation of prayer for Shabbat, the Sabbath, and for weekdays. My impetus for doing that book was a deep frustration with the patriarchal focus of traditional prayer that was so unsatisfying to the point of being painful for many Jewish women and, it turns out, many Jewish men as well. When it was published, that book created a pretty big stir in the Jewish world.

Then, in 1996, I thought I would dive right into the next volume, which would be for the high holiday season, because that is the time of year when more Jews enter the synagogue than at any other time of year. But The Days Between, which just was published, took another 18 years.

DAVID: I’ve been a journalist covering religion and cross-cultural issues for 40 years now and I am fascinated by this thoughtful, long journey represented in your work. There is a great deal that evolves and matures in us as we go through the years. I talked about this issue, this spring, with the writer Barbara Brown Taylor and asked her why five years had passed between books.

Barbara laughed at that and said: “I envy the writers who can turn out a book every year, but I teach full time, my husband and I live on a working farm, I travel a lot to speak. And, honestly, I think it’s worth taking time to actually live the kind of life that will produce something worth writing about.”

MARCIA: There are many reasons it took me so many years: raising a child, needing to make a living as a professor and many other things. But the main reason was that this needed to evolve in my mind and heart. I needed to really grapple with what this very difficult liturgy was all about. The themes of the high holidays are extremely profound and they are at the core of all of human endeavor.

It took this many years to complete, really, because I needed to live long enough in the world—and needed all of the experiences that come with birth and grief and growth and renewal and all the things that make up a human life through those years. I needed to grow through all of that. My living was seeping into my poetry all that time.

DAVID: I hope that readers of this interview understand that, while your book is Jewish and ideal for Jewish readers, this book also can be appreciated as an inspiring and spiritually challenging reader for non-Jews as well. As I was preparing for our interview, Marcia, I was also balancing hours of visiting my father in hospice care. He’s at the very end of his long life, now, and I found many passages in your book just electrifying.

Let me read one prose passage from the opening of the book that really helped me in my own reflections right now. You write: “Positioned between dawn and dusk, dusk and dawn, we live between past and future because we cannot live in them; we cannot act in them or change their outcomes. In this sense, past and future don’t exist for us: only the time between them—the present time—exists.” And then you continue a few lines later: “How do we live with the knowledge not just of our own mortality but of the truth that we cannot hold on to anything? How do we keep from succumbing to despair?”

I underlined those lines and turned down the corner of that page. That summarizes, so eloquently, the spiritual challenge we all face at times of major life transitions. It certainly was very helpful to me in the midst of hospice care with my Dad. I read those lines aloud to him.

MARCIA: To me, that’s the best reward as an author—to hear that kind of response from a reader. I should also mention that it’s been very interesting to me that, wherever I speak about this book, hospice workers in particular come up to me and I see how engaged they are. I feel very gratified that the book is of use to those in hospice. I think that hospice workers are doing something extremely important in our world world.

DAVID: I think it speaks, even more broadly, about how these timeless truths and insights—these blessings and prayers—can touch many lives whatever one’s faith might be. So, let me close our interview by asking: What do you hope general readers will take away from reading your book?

MARCIA: For my Jewish readers, I hope I’m bringing a new entry into Judaism. I also hope it will reveal something for non-Jewish readers as well. I hope it touches people and enriches their paths through life. We’re all human beings and we’re all in this together.

In this book, I am dealing with big themes that speak to and for all of us. Of course, I’m doing this in Jewish language and metaphor—but ultimately for any religion or tradition to meaningful, it has to be dealing with the universals of human life. No religion works unless it is really talking to the whole community of humanity.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleGreat With GroupsHolidaysJewish

Immersed in the spirit of tashlikh as a family

As part of our coverage of the Jewish High Holidays, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes author Lynne Meredith Golodner, writing about her own contemporary experience with tashlikh.

Throwing Away Mistakes:
It’s that time of year

By LYNNE MEREDITH GOLODNER

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe will walk through the cascading hills of Cranbrook’s grounds, between and among the tree-shaded trails. The kids will climb into the arms of a steady old tree, balance in the fork of branches, jump down without fear. We will debate whether to take the path that leads to a carefully scripted line of boulders, where they can dance and skip from rock to rock, or take the other path, the back way, and end up at a grand finale of stones.

At some point in the middle of this autumn hike, my four children, husband and I will pause beside the water. Most years, it’s the drumming river next to the Japanese gardens, but last year we sat on a platform beside the still and silent pond. Either way, we’ll open the bag of old bread and crumble pieces into crumbs to disseminate over the water’s surface, letting the current take last year’s choices and regrets away forever, making room for this year’s clean slate.

This is the tradition I’ve built with my family in the spirit of tashlikh, the Jewish practice on Rosh Hashanah, or sometime between the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 10 days later. Tashlikh is the ritual of throwing away our sins so that we may start anew, start fresh, in the dawning of a new year.

It’s a cleansing, so to speak, of the soul.

When I became a single mother of three young children in 2008, I began my journey toward personalizing my spiritual pursuits. I grew up as a secular Reform Jew, doing my duty–services twice a year, where my sister and I camped out in the synagogue bathroom and commented on other people’s outfits. Bored by the observances, we muscled through until the time when we were set free into the parking lot and onward to home, to imbibe chicken soup and matzoh balls and revel in the day off from school.

In young adulthood, I chose Orthodoxy, my form of rebellion. I spent a decade in the ritualistic rigidity of very traditional Judaism, learning the roots of my heritage, observing as much as I could stomach. I sat in long services on two days of Rosh Hashanah, trying not to fidget from the not-knowing, the lack-of-understanding. My rabbi had compassion; he encouraged me to attend a learner’s service, admitting that the high holy day observances are heavy, too much for someone not raised in the culture of immersion.

I dreaded the 25-hour fast day of Yom Kippur, though I did it, muscling through in the way that I did as a child in my liberal synagogue. Either way, I didn’t find my place in my religion until I set myself free from an unhappy marriage at the age of 37. It was then that I felt brave enough, confident enough, strong enough, to create my own rituals, and involve my children in tangible observance of our long tradition.

The first time I took the kids to Cranbrook for tashlikh, I made a conscious choice not to use the word “sin,” which is the common construction for this practice. The bread crumbs symbolize our sins, which we cast off for the moving waters to carry away from us. And then we are free, free from sin, a clean canvas with which to start a new year, in hopefully better spirits and character than the one just ended.

I didn’t want to teach my children that our religion is a punishing one. I wanted them to embrace themselves in success and in failure, and the word sin has such a harsh connotation. So I used the word “choice,” asking the then 2-, 4- and 6-year-old sweet ones what choices they would like to make in the coming year.

“I will be nicer to my brother,” said one of my children.

“I will listen to Mommy more,” said another.

“I will read more books,” said the third one.

And I joined them, admitting my own human-ness in front of these precious souls.

“I will try not to yell,” I said. It was hard being a single mother; I was easily excitable in those early years trying to figure it out for myself. I threw that regret into the waters and watched the bread crumb dissolve into nothingness.

After the bread supply was depleted and I had just a plastic bag left to carry home, we continued on our journey. The Pewabic tiled fountain under leafy pine and maple. The cairn beside the swampy pond. Overgrown shrubbery nearly obscuring the narrow path toward the majestic old house with its fountains and gardens.

We dipped into the Greek amphitheater and the children ran up and down the rows of seats, called with echoing voices from the open stage. We were free in the forest, reveling in our connection and in the freedom to be reborn after making mistakes, grateful for second chances.

My children are older now and I am thankfully calmer. We still do our tashlikh routine, a favorite of mine at least, with each passing year. We go to synagogue to mark the significance of the holiday season with community, but it isn’t until we get out in the open air and sunshine that we feel energized to start anew.

I have two middle-schoolers who roll their eyes at me even as they snuggle in close. I have a third-grader and a fifth-grader, too. All are wrapped in their version of good and bad, their understanding of the way our world rejuvenates itself.

I still use the word “choice,” preferring its participatory connotation over the finger-wagging “sin.” As we stroll along the pine-scented trails, I listen more than I talk, letting them take the stage, letting them share their revelations of what it is to live a good life, what it is to release regret into the warm hug of the generous world.

Lynne Meredith Golodner is author of eight books including The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads. She owns a public relations company called Your People LLC, guiding spiritually-focused businesses and nonprofits in storytelling and relationships to build their reach, and blogs daily at www.lynnegolodner.com. She lives with her husband and four children in Huntington Woods, Michigan.

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Categories: Jewish

Phyllis Tickle interview: How The Spirit is transforming religious life

Cover The Age of the Spirit by Phyllis Tickle

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

“God told me to do it!”

These days, that claim is made by everyone from pro athletes and contestants on America’s Got Talent—to saints like the heroic doctors volunteering to help combat Ebola. But, where did people get such a startling idea—that God’s Spirit could direct their individual lives?

Now, journalist and scholar Phyllis Tickle has written a fascinating history of how Christians have come to understand the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. Her new book (written with Jon M. Sweeney) is called The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church.

Hearing so many people make this claim (“God told me to …”) may begin to sound like mere wistful thinking. But, we shouldn’t dismiss this, Phyllis writes in her new book. In fact, she argues, we are living in an era of profound change in the way religious motivations are shaping America’s dominant Christian population. (Wondering if the U.S. is still “predominantly Christian”? Pew’s global study says yes—4 out of 5 Americans still identify as “Christian.”)

But, we are witnessing something new in this majority religious group, Phyllis writes. Throughout most of Christian history, this is not how Christians talked—unless they were among the very few men and women who, today, we regard as “mystics.”

Phyllis is not alone in drawing this kind of conclusion. It parallels years of research by the University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker, creator of the OurValues project and author of the new book United America. His ongoing research shows that Americans, as a group, are unique in the world for being both intensely religious and proudly outspoken about our individual opinions.

Phyllis argues that the widespread belief in God directly guiding one’s life reflects a century-long growth of American interest in what Christians refer to as the Holy Spirit. Now, many Spirit-motivated Americans are drawing their own conclusions about centuries-old church rules and doctrines. Some are digging in their heels and rigidly clinging to traditional beliefs—but many are breaking down historic barriers: gender barriers, racial barriers, ethnic barriers as well as barriers against gay and lesbian men and women.

“This is a time of great change,” Phyllis says. “If we really understand what’s happening right now, then our jaws should drop open in amazement!”

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Phyllis Tickle. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH
PHYLLIS TICKLE ON ‘THE AGE OF SPIRIT’

DAVID: Let’s begin this interview at the end of your book. In about 150 pages, you take us on a 2,000-year tour of Christian thinking about the Holy Spirit. Then, you conclude:

“As this new form of Christianity and this new way of being Church and Kingdom mature, they, like their predecessors in earlier upheavals, soon must come to address the question of authority—to address the question of how now shall we live and by whose definitions of right and wrong, correct and incorrect, holy and heretical. When they and/or we fully engage that dreaded question, it will be in terms of the Spirit and of holy discernment. The center of our new authority will lie, as it did in earlier presentations, not with politico-ecclesial hierarchies, nor even in sola scriptura and inerrancy as it is popular defined. Rather, it will lie within the realm of the Spirit and an awe-filled, discerning intercourse with it.”

In other words: Bishops and other Christian gatekeepers beware! You’re not in control anymore. Millions of individuals feel they’re hearing directly from God. Phyllis, is that a fair summary of what you’re saying?

PHYLLIS TICKLE, photographed by Teresa Hooper. Used with the author's permission.

PHYLLIS TICKLE, photographed by Teresa Hooper. Used with the author’s permission.

‘People who scoffed …
are at the heart of this!’

PHYLLIS: Yes, you’ve got it right. And, if you really think about those lines at the end of my book, then you realize why those are some of the scariest lines I’ve ever written.

Think about this. Not too long ago in our history, our upstanding Christian families in any community would have regarded these claims of the Spirit directing people as foolish. When this first started happening, this was associated with the “holy rollers” who set up tents on the edge of town. This way of talking was regarded by the upstanding folks as contemptible: They called it stupid and definitely regarded it as lower class. It’s true. Our highly regarded Christian families once dismissed these people as laughable.

Now, the landscape has shifted to the point where it is good upstanding folks—many of them middle class and some of them even wealthy now—who are engaging with God on a daily basis through Spirit. Today, we call this Renewalist or Pentecostal or Charismatic—people have various terms they prefer. But this is really a major shift in our American culture. The kinds of people who once dismissed this are now at the heart of it!

What happened in our country is that the Spirit landed on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 for the first time in a significant way since Pentecost 2,000 years ago—and that Spirit has continued to spread like wildfire throughout Christianity. I believe there’s no way to compare this dramatic shift to anything less than the wildfire that spread in the centuries right after Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. In those early centuries, lots of good Jews and good pagans, too, suddenly accepted this radical new belief that God could take on human form and dwell among us. That was the shocking shift in belief that fueled the first two centuries of Christian growth. This change was so dramatic that we wound up counting time differently. We reset the calendar. Now, I think we’re seeing a shift in Christianity that’s as dramatic as that first wildfire.

DAVID: The Azusa Street revival lasted for a number of years. We’re still in the midst of the Azusa centennial and I discussed this at some length with Dr. Tanya Luhrmann when I interviewed her about her book, When God Talks Back.

PHYLLIS: Yes, Tanya nailed this in her work. She got it right. The Azusa Street Revival sounded this trumpet. Now, millions of Americans are downloading the truth right from God. And, that’s a dramatic change.

AZUSA STREET: ‘The real shock …’

DAVID: And, talk about the potential for breaking down barriers! Reporters who covered what was happening on Azusa Street, a century ago, were stunned to find black and white men and women worshiping together.

PHYLLIS: The real shock was: Azusa Street started with a black preacher! Yes, at the heart of this was the way they were breaking down all kinds of barriers. And it took place in a building that was a converted stable! I love that fact. I think there’s poetic humor in God twice acting dramatically in a stable. And you’re right: Those LA Times reporters found that their mouths dropped open. They couldn’t deny the incredible energy they were witnessing: people speaking in tongues, people claiming to have been healed. What was happening there was so exciting that people simply could not deny what they were seeing.

I mean, women were receiving the Spirit right along with the men. Suddenly you had women preaching. Incredible! And it wasn’t just black and white. You had Asian-American and Latino-American men and women involved over time. Class barriers and economic barriers were thrown out the window. A lot of the preconceptions that had shaped Christianity to date—they just went “Bye Bye!” for these people.

DAVID: As I reached your conclusions in the final chapter of your book, I found your argument running parallel with Dr. Wayne Baker’s work on the World Values Survey. When Wayne looked at the data coming from that global research—giving him the ability to compare Americans with 80 other countries—then he was able to show that our American religious culture is unique in the world. First, we stack up with countries like Pakistan and Iran in the intensity of our religious belief—but we’re unique because we also stack up with Scandinavia in our rock-solid belief that each person’s viewpoint should be freely expressed.

‘A double-edged sword’?

PHYLLIS: That’s the pattern that I believe goes right along with the Charismatic or Pentecostal brand of Christianity. There’s this deep belief that says: “God told me to do it! I’m going to do it!” I may not be able to read. I may not have a dollar to my name. I may not even have a home. But I feel empowered from the inside out. I’ve downloaded truth directly from God. I don’t need any mediator. I don’t need any bishop or any church council.

I’ve talked to people who will go to their graves defending this way of seeing the world. And, if it goes to extremes, this becomes a double-edged sword. It’s inspiring and it can motivate heroes who do incredibly courageous things—but it also can be very dangerous.

Now we’re seeing the ordinary Johnny and June on the street feeling as though they’ve got direct connection with the godhead—and the Spirit can motivate them in powerful ways.

A Letter to My Congregation by Ken Wilson cover on the third way

Click the cover to read more about the book.

DAVID: In addition to seeing parallels in Wayne’s work, I think these conclusions you’re drawing explain the important message behind Ken Wilson’s campaign to open up evangelical churches to welcome gay and lesbian men and women. The argument he poses in his new book, A Letter to My Congregation, is that no official-sounding Christian gatekeepers can keep Spirit-inspired men and women from welcoming gay Christians into full participation in the church.

In Ken’s view, it’s almost irrelevant to ask for some church council to make an official ruling on this. Churches should simply throw open the doors and be hospitable, recognizing that Christianity is in the midst of change on this issue. It’s all about the authority of individual people, now. And, as I read Ken’s book, that’s the heart of what he calls “The Third Way.” The New Testament letter to the Romans says that Christian leaders should not divide the church over disagreements that amount to “disputable matters.” And LGBT inclusion is one of those matters where the Spirit is in the midst of changing minds, Ken argues. Official gatekeepers just need to get out of the way of that change and default to the deeper Christian value of hospitality and welcoming of everyone.

Am I reading his book correctly? You wrote Introduction to his book. What do you think?

MICAH 6 TRUMPS ALL

PHYLLIS: Yes, that’s what he’s saying. Theologically, I think Ken is making a very strong argument. He’s saying that the wisdom in the 6th chapter of Micah trumps everything on this issue. Micah says: What is it that God requires of us? To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. Ken says that’s the basis on which Jesus acted. And, yes, that’s right in line with this movement of the Spirit that I’m writing about in my book.

DAVID: So, how do you hope your new book will be used? What do you hope readers will walk away thinking after reading it?

PHYLLIS: Well, of course, I hope that a lot of different kind of readers realize that they’re a part of this story: Catholics and Protestants. A strong argument could be made that this whole movement of the Spirit connects with so many Christian leaders down through our history. I see it connecting with the life and work of John Wesley and a lot of others.

So, I hope readers can come away making a lot of connections from this book. I hope that people will read this and have a sense of awe. This is a time of great change. If we really understand what’s happening right now, then our jaws should drop open in amazement! What do I want readers to take away?

Just that, I think: A sense of humble amazement.

Care to read more?

  • GET THE BOOKS—We highly recommend Phyllis Tickle’s new book (click on the cover with this interview) as well as Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation and Wayne Baker’s United America. All three books explain powerful trends in American life and culture.
  • VISIT PHYLLIS’S WEBSITE—Her website, www.PhyllisTickle.com, is packed with information about Phyllis’s long career, her books and her ongoing work.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleGreat With Groups

The Naomi Schaefer Riley interview on growing your congregation

Cover Got Religion by Naomi Schaefer Riley for Templeton

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Anxious Christians, watching young adults slip away from congregations by the millions, have built an entire industry around “church growth.” So, this new book by journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley is both eagerly awaited news—and a startling surprise.

What’s the big surprise in Got Religion? How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back? Riley’s extensive research, backed by the Templeton Press, shows that the advice hawked by a lot of would-be church-growth experts simply isn’t worth the money. And, congregations of any size—whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim—have an opportunity to welcome back young adults by focusing to the basics of religious community: hospitality, compassion and sincere relationships.

Frequently, self-proclaimed experts walk into congregations and promote investment in technology to bring young adults back to worship. Her book concludes: “Perhaps the most striking element that is absent from the accounts of successful religious institutions in this book is—technology. When I asked the academics, religious leaders and journalists who cover religion which institutions were doing the best job and how, my respondents barely mentioned Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Tumbler, let alone the institutional websites that congregations often spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours creating.”

And when Riley went out and talked to young adults nationwide? Yes, she reports, they did “expect a basic level of technological literacy from their churches and synagogues. … Of course they would like to see an updated Facebook page from their religious instutions with information about where services will be or what time events will take place—but I could not find one example of a technological innovation that brought someone into one of these religious institutions or an instance in which it convinced them to stay.”

In fact, young adults are even willing to forgive the technological limitations of their houses of worship. They’re seeking, first and foremost, something that congregations once understood was their core value—forming communities.

Today, ReadTheSpirit magazine is highly recommending Naomi’s book for individual reading and for small-group discussion. Click on the book cover and order a copy today. Invite friends to discuss this book with you.

Here is Riley’s message—after an impressive body of national research—in a few concise lines: “Religious leaders who are successfully connecting with young adults realize that sleek advertising is not going to bring people into the pews. The barriers to entry are not matters for a public relations firm to tackle. Young adults want community. They want a neighborhood. They want a critical mass of people their age. But they want to see older people and younger people in their religious institutions, too. They want a way to serve, and many of them want a way to serve sacrificially for longer periods of time. They want the racial and ethnic diversity of their country reflected in their religious community. … They want to feel welcome whether they are single or married. And while they may appear to be experiencing an extended adolescence, when they are given responsibility, they often are inclined to take it.”

Is this refreshing news—or what!?! For religious leaders bemoaning the mass exodus of young adults? Riley’s message is: The opportunity to welcome them back is right there in your hands and in your own timeless mission as congregations.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed the author. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY
ON ‘GOT RELIGION?’

Naomi Schaefer Riley used with the author's permission.

Naomi Schaefer Riley used with the author’s permission.

DAVID: I imagine that many of our readers will be surprised by the conclusions in your book, but I see your work mirroring the No. 1 “Key Takeaway” from Pew’s study of the millennial generation: “Millennials have fewer attachments to traditional political and religious institutions, but they connect to personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups through social and digital media.” Most people reading Pew’s No. 1 point may focus on the final phrase in Pew’s conclusion “through social and digital media.” And Pew is correct in explaining how millions of millennials achieve community through social media. But your book looks past that final phrase to focus squarely on Pew’s main point: Young adults want to connect socially with a community.

NAOMI: Absolutely. My research for this book included going out and finding success stories to the extent they exist. When I went around the country and visited a variety of religious institutions–Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant–I asked the young adults I found there to describe what drew them in. I was surprised that nobody gave me answers involving technology. It wasn’t mentioned as something drawing them in.

What people described was a personal sense of human connection with the community. In New Orleans, when I visited Redeemer Presbyterian Church, I found that the people there focused on where they are—the neighborhood they are in. The pastor there prides himself in saying to visitors: Is there a church that’s closer to your home that you’d rather belong to? You don’t hear that from most religious leaders. He says that because he wants to warn people ahead of time that this church is very focused on the neighborhood. He walks everywhere. The members of the church really like the fact that they run into each other on a daily basis. They like seeing each other in coffee shops and bars and stores.

DAVID: Now, you also make it clear that digital technology is a way of life with young adults and congregations ignore that at their peril. Millions of adults want their congregations to connect in ways that make common sense in their lives today. For example, they want an easy-to-find website with the location and the upcoming schedule. The Redeemer church website provides all of that information on its opening web page. However, you also conclude that Twitter or Facebook “campaigns” aren’t going to bring young adults through the doors.

THE DAILY QUESTIONS:
WHERE ARE YOU?‘ AND, ‘WANT TO GO …?

NAOMI: This focus on Twitter and Facebook among some of the people who are advising congregations is a misunderstanding of how young people think about technology. These are just tools—just a means of meeting other people. Most people are using these tools to say things to other people, like: “Hey, I’m at the Starbucks now. Where are you?” Or: “I’m headed to the bar later. How about you?” Or: “Want to go to the park?”

These tools aren’t magic. What we need to look at more closely is the spontaneous way that young adults use these tools to create human interaction. If you’re a congregational leader and you think that young adults will flock to you because of the coolness of your new technology—you’re missing the point.

DAVID: One of the fascinating examples in your book is called CharlotteONE, and the program’s website also makes it clear that these organizers understand what people really want on a website: the upcoming schedule. As we publish this interview “Upcoming Dates” is the top headline item on CharlotteONE’s website. This Charlotte program is an example of a bunch of local congregations all coming together to produce a “local” event aimed at orienting young adults to local houses of worship.

The program’s website boils the conclusions of your book down to a simple line: “CharlotteONE helps 20-to-30-somethings get connected, make a difference, and find their purpose.” At the moment, they explain: “We are a collaborative effort of nearly 50 local churches to provide young professionals with greater opportunities for establishing significant roots in Charlotte.” This is right in line with the central findings of your book.

NAOMI: One of the big obstacles that religious leaders and communities face in attracting young people is: Where do we find the resources? You have people in the pew now and you have an obligation to serve them. So, how much time and money should you spend on bringing in people who are not there–and who aren’t showing much interest about coming?

So, a group of religious leaders got together in Charlotte and found that they all were throwing up their arms in weariness over trying to create their own individual programs for young adults. Together, they came up with the idea: What would happen if we all contributed to this one big flashy gathering for young adults each week? Sometimes it’s a lecture. Sometimes it’s music.

DAVID: Since your book is about attracting young adults to Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregations, we should explain that this particular example is very diverse but the CharlotteONE example is a Christian program. Sponsors include Catholic and mainline and evangelical congregations.

NAOMI: Yes, whatever the program might be in a particular week, this is always a Christian gathering with a Christian theme. But the real focus for the sponsors are these tables they set up representing all of the different churches in the Charlotte area. There are maps to help visitors see the locations. And, as everyone gathers, you’re supposed to walk around and talk to people about what you’re looking for in a church community. Some people might want to find a Catholic church; others might want to find a more evangelical congregation.

Because of its focus, CharlotteONE has an almost 100 percent turnover every few years. It serves as a funnel for young adults to think more about belonging to a church, attending on Sundays and putting down their roots in a local community. One characteristic of the Charlotte area overall is a transitional feel among the young professionals who live and work there. People are moving in, getting new jobs and then, like a lot of young adult life now, people expect to be drifting from job to job, roommate to roommate, friend to friend. CharloteONE is intended to help people put down some roots in the middle of that process.

DAVID: I could see this working in a big, healthy Jewish or Muslim community like the ones in metro-Detroit as well. There might be weekly regional gatherings for young adults co-sponsored by a number of congregations. This could work, of course, with Christian groups just as it does in Charlotte, but I think this is a part of your book that could apply to other faith groups as well.

WHAT DO ‘THEY‘ WANT?
INVITATIONS TO SERVICE

DAVID: Let me ask about another key finding in your report: Congregations nationwide are missing a big opportunity if they don’t reach out to young adults with opportunities for service, either within their own communities or within other needy communities. This is fascinating: You conclude that many young adults today are looking for ways to provide much more significant service—even longer-term sacrificial service. I hope that religious leaders pay close attention to that part of your book.

I know, just from young adults I’ve known in recent years, this certainly is true. They’re not so sure that America has a secure “career path” waiting for them, so they are eager to consider alternative ways to work and provide service. I know a lot of young adults who have considered the Peace Corps, for example. This is very much in line with the big Pew study of “Millennials” that calls this generation: “Confident. Connected. Open to change.” As I read that Pew study, it’s a portrait of a generation open to invitations for service. Your research draws an even more pointed conclusion about this, right?

NAOMI: This is the first generation that has grown up and gone through school with this sense of community service as part of their curriculum. For many people in their 20s, community service actually was a part of their curriculum in high school and college. They don’t need to go the religious route to find opportunities for service, but this possibility of service is an opportunity for religious groups.

DAVID: One amazing point we should stress about your book: You say almost nothing about the religious teachings that should come from houses of worship. You do say a lot about the need for religious leaders to be honest and welcoming and reflective of the diversity in our country. But you really don’t write about theological themes. That’s one reason, I think, that this book can be so successful across faith lines.

NAOMI: That’s right. This book is not about changing your theological outlook. This book is about seeing your church, synagogue or mosque as an institution that needs to figure out how to get the next generation involved. And if you look through the chapters from different religious perspectives, then some things I write about will be more applicable to you than others.

But the most important message here is the importance of face-to-face contact focusing on your neighborhood. Young adults today have one of the lowest rates of car ownership in our history. Young adults want to walk places. Young adults want to know about their neighborhood. Second, young adults need to be treated as adults. Twenty somethings are perfectly capable of being in charge of any number of so-called “adult” issues in your congregation. That’s a point I can’t stress enough. It’s true that these young adults don’t have the traditional markers of adulthood. Many are waiting years to get married. Many may live with their own parents. They may not look like traditional adults to older leaders in religious communities. But they are very capable adults and we need to invite them to lead and to serve.

This really is about talking to young adults and saying: You really are valuable members of our community.

Gayle_Campbell_teaching_kids_in_HondurasCare to read more from …
our own Millennial columnist?

Contributing columnist Gayle Campbell has written several series of OurValues columns about the values that motivate her Millennial generation. If you click here, you’ll find 15 of her columns, grouped into three series, including: “Doing Good,” “5 World-Changing Truths” and “5 Millennial Truths.” In many ways, Gayle’s columns mirror the conclusions drawn in Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book. If you are planning a small-group discussion of Naomi’s book, you may want to include some of Gayle’s columns, as well, which include discussion questions.

Care to see the idea?

Author and columnist Benjamin Pratt shares a vivid greeting card about building strong relationships that he often sends to young couples.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsChurch GrowthJewishMuslim

What do strong, balanced relationships look like?

North American Plate in Iceland photo by Benjamin PrattBy BENJAMIN PRATT

Got Religion? by journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley looks at the mass exodus of young adults from congregations nationwide and finds hope in something those of us who’ve given our lives to faith communities should have known all along: It’s all about building relationships. (You can read an in-depth interview with her right now.) Riley saw these truths through the lens of Templeton-funded research and her reporting from communities coast to coast. I’ve seen this in the lives of countless men and women I’ve counseled over the decades.

These days, I like to send people personal notes with photographs I’ve taken around the world. I want to leave them with vivid images—and a handful of words—that they may ponder over time.

Immediately after snapping this photo along the North American Plate in Iceland, I knew that I had captured a geologic symbol of human relationships. In nature, in construction and in relationships, a keystone holds two dynamic forces together in a delicate, precarious balance. Through the years, I have mailed this photo to newly engaged couples, along with an inscription, formatted as a simple poem, to remind them of the dynamic tension and balance necessary to sustain a thriving relationship.

Recently, I visited one of those couples—and I was delighted to see my photo and my words framed and displayed in their home.

Here are the words I send along with the photograph …

RELATIONSHIPS
that
thrive
need
a
KEYSTONE
of
strong, courageous trust
to
balance
the
delicate, interdependent,
BOND.

THRIVING
RELATIONSHIPS
engage
imagination, empathy, sympathy,
understanding, honesty, and clear communication.
The bond is sustained by a
a capacity to change both mind and behavior
to create a safety net
where acts of
forgiveness,
hope,
charity,
love and laughter
will be fostered.

PLEASE NOTE: If you care to pass this along to friends, I am giving you permission to reproduce the photograph and the words (please credit me and mention that I’m a writer for www.ReadTheSpirit.com). You’ll find that, if you have a common card-making program available on your computer, the image and words fit together nicely to form a greeting card. If you do follow this suggestion, please email us at ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com and tell us how you’ve passed it along. I’d love to hear from you.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Great With Groups

Review: ‘The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden’

Cover Zeitgeist DVD The Galapagos Affair Satan Came to Eden

Click the cover to visit the DVD’s Amazon page. (The documentary also is available via Netflix.)

By DAVID CRUMM

This film might have been titled: The Perils of Pursuing Paradise.

Ever since the late 1800s when Jules Verne began publishing his international best-sellers, the world has been fascinated by the idea of dramatically escaping from civilization. Flash forward to 2014 and a dozen popular TV series are fueled by that same desire. In late September, the National Geographic Channel will debut another one: Live Free or Die, a series that looks at Americans trying to survive in remote woods and swamps.

Now, Zeitgeist Films brings us one of the strangest true stories of escaping adventurers. This mixed bag of misfits converged on a remote island in the Galapagos chain between the two World Wars. Their tale is so wild that a writer for the Smithsonian Institution, reporting on the Smithsonian’s extensive archives about this strange adventure, described the story as “a screwball farce peopled by eccentrics” that “abruptly turned to tragedy.”

During the heyday of this Galapagos experiment, lurid magazines around the world published fanciful dispatches from this little colony with headlines that included: “The Nudist Empress of the Galapagos” and “Mad Empress in the Garden of Eden” and “The Insatiable Baroness who Created Her Own Paradise.”

As it turns out, the real pioneer in this “paradise” was a German doctor with a grandiose vision of his role as a philosopher and naturalist. He apparently was a very effective wilderness pioneer, building many hand-made devices to make his island home a pleasurable place to live. But he also was motivated by a selfishness that amounted to loathing other people. When an odd-ball mix of other adventurers showed up on this doctor’s remote island, trouble was all but certain.

The adventurer who was chiefly responsible for the island’s global acclaim was a woman with even more grandiose visions than the doctor. She called herself a baroness (even though she wasn’t) and very publicly set up a household with a rotating series of male lovers. She even began production on a silent film with herself starring as a savage, scantily clad pirate! Some footage of this bizarre movie is included in the documentary.

No wonder the Smithsonian columnist wound up publishing a long, four-part summary of this strange tale as the saga is “told” through the Washington D.C. archives. (Here are the four parts: One, Two, Three and Four.)

Much more dramatic than this Smithsonian Internet series is the two-hour documentary by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, the folks who brought us the acclaimed documentary, Ballet Russes, which also dipped back into this pre-World War II era to give us a vivid portrait of the world-famous Russian troupe.

Why is ReadTheSpirit magazine reviewing this film? Because dreams of finding a remote paradise run throughout the long and tangled history of the world’s great religious movements, from some of the founding communities in what is now the United States (Remember the Pilgrims, the Puritans and the Shakers?) to tragic cults like Jim Jones’ Jonestown in Guyana where more than 900 people died in 1978.

Perhaps most fascinating about this cautionary tale from the Galapagos is that the German doctor’s master work of philosophy was ultimately of no interest to publishers in the civilized world and, instead, in 1935 his lover Dore Strauch published her own version of the island experiment, Satan Came to Eden: A Survivor’s Account of the Galapagos Affair.

This definitely is a mesmerizing two hours! It’s also a good choice for sparking conversation in any small group that enjoys discussing either new films or global issues.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Great With GroupsMovies and TV

The Matthew Fox interview on Meister Eckhart and connecting peacemakers

Cover of Meister Eckhart by Matthew Fox

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Wake up your spiritual life with best-selling author, theologian and educator Matthew Fox. In his newest book, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, Fox inspires us by connecting dots between the medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart—and the lives of visionary men and women in our times who we, at ReadTheSpirit, would call Interfaith Peacemakers.

For our readers who already love inspirational reading, “Matt” Fox is well known as a global leader in opening up almost-forgotten Christian treasures to help heal today’s fractured world.

Matt has had a long, hard journey to this current popularity. In the 1980s and 1990s, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm was a religion writer for American newspapers and covered the Vatican’s investigation that eventually drove Fox out of the Catholic church. (He is now an Episcopal priest.) The man behind Matt’s inquisition later became Pope Benedict XVI. Then known as Cardinal Ratzinger, he claimed that Matt was dangerous to the Catholic church, because Matt kept insisting that God created the world in an “original blessing” rather than under the Vatican’s doctrine of “original sin.” In that era, Matt Fox headlines were about the international conflict over what became known as Matt’s teachings on “Creation Spirituality.”

FLASH FORWARD—Today, any reader of inspirational books is familiar with names such as Meister Eckhart and also Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century mystic. For example, brief writings from both of their collected works are sprinkled through the pages of Matt’s 365-day inspirational reader: Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations. (That’s a perfect gift, by the way, for friends who want to start a new year with a commitment to daily meditation.)

During their turbulent lives in the Middle Ages, both Eckhart and Hildegard faced critics. Eckhart actually was condemned by the church. However, in recent decades, the Vatican has warmed to both of them: Pope John Paul II publicly wrote about the importance of Eckhart’s writings; Pope Benedict XVI finally declared Hildegard a saint and, much more significantly, Benedict declared her one of the highly respected “Doctors of the Church.” With that official nod, Hildegard became one of only three women (along with St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Liseux) to be so honored as a major, Vatican-endorsed, timeless theologian and teacher.

But, today, many readers have forgotten who began pitching for this fresh appreciation of their wisdom as mystics and teachers—way back in the 1980s. It was Matthew Fox, who produced contemporary English-language books on each of them: the 1983 book Meditations with Meister Eckhart and the 1987 book Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs. These books represented a major scholarly effort and we can still highly recommend those two books to dig deeper into these mystics’ original writings.

Matthew Fox

Matthew Fox

NOW, as a new century is unfolding, Matt Fox headlines in the news media are about his work as a writer, educator and popular theologian working toward a more peaceful world. As he has traveled in recent years, he has heard from many of his readers that they want help in connecting spiritual dots in the works of Hildegard and Eckhart with other religious heroes who inspire us today. In his 2012 book, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century, Matt has Hildegard “meet” and compare ideas with a wide range of modern heroes from the poet Mary Oliver and the Jungian psychoanalyst and poet Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

This summer, in his brand new Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, Foxx has Eckhart “meet” and compare spiritual notes with such heroes as Rabbi Heschel, Howard Thurman, Thich Nhat Hanh, Marcus Borg and Oscar Romero. NOTE: We are devoting this week’s entire Interfaith Peacemakers department within our website to highlighting our own profiles of these heroes.

As he has many times over the past 30 years, David Crumm interviewed Matt Fox. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF
OUR INTERVIEW WITH
MATTHEW FOX
ON ‘MEISTER ECKHART’

DAVID: I love your technique in these new books, especially this latest one on Meister Eckhart—having them “meet” contemporary men and women as you compare some of their major teachings and show the timeless importance of these ideas. Way back in the late 1970s, I interviewed TV talk-show host Steve Allen when he produced that marvelous series for PBS called Meeting of Minds. For each episode, Steve and his co-writers would have actors dress up as famous figures throughout world history and they would meet, in the TV studio, and talk. Fascinating!

MATT: I do remember watching that series and enjoying it very much.

DAVID: We’ve already dated ourselves, I guess, but let’s fix a dating problem in your Wikipedia entry, today, by establishing your birth date. Based on that Wiki entry, which has been missing your specific birth date, journalists never know your actual age.

MATT: Oh, my birthday is December 21, so I’m 73 right now. I’ll turn 74 in December.

HILDEGARD: ‘Creation formed in love’

Cover of Hildegard of Bingen by Matthew Fox

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

DAVID: I’m 59 and I’m so glad we’ve both lived long enough to get past all the controversy over the Vatican’s inquisition in the ’80s and ’90s. Today, we can actually have some spiritual fun in connecting the dots between these medieval figures and people who many of our readers consider heroes. And let’s start, for just a moment, by looking back at the earlier book on Hildegard.

MATT: I wrote that book when I heard that the Vatican was going to canonize her. And I suspect Benedict did that because he’s German and she’s popular in Germany. But, in my book, I call her a “Trojan horse,” because I don’t think the Vatican is emphasizing her most important messages. When she was alive, she was a great proponent of the divine feminine and I didn’t trust the Vatican to emphasize that properly. Hildegard was very much a critic of the patriarchal church in the middle ages and I think that’s one reason she wasn’t canonized for eight centuries.

In fact, I open my new book on Hildegard with this passage: “I heard a voice speaking to me: ‘The young woman whom you see is Love. She has her tent in eternity … It was love which was the source of this creation in the beginning when God said: ‘Let it be!’ And it was. As though in the blinking of an eye, the whole creation was formed through love. The young woman is radiant in such a clear, lightning-like brilliance of countenance that you can’t fully look at her … She holds the sun and moon in her right hand and embraces them tenderly.”

To me that amazing passage from Hildegard’s visions is a tremendous teaching on what I call original blessing.

DAVID: And then, as the book opens up, you use this technique of having her “meet” various contemporary figures. I like Joan Chittister’s Foreword to that Hildegard book in which she writes: “Those who have lived well for their own time have lived well for all time.”

MATT: Yes, in that book, I put Hildegard in the room with Mary Oliver, Albert Einstein, Howard Thurman and others and then I used that methodology again in my new book with Eckhart.

DAVID: Just to clarify, let’s explain to readers of this interview that your books are not like Steve Allen screenplays. You don’t actually imagine a dialogue between these figures. So, let’s describe your technique this way: You choose central ideas shared by these pairings of people and, then, in each chapter they “meet” as you compare and contrast their teachings. It’s very creative stuff!

POPE FRANCIS: ‘Making up for some very lost ground’

DAVID: After your many decades of feuding with Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict, I know you’ve got higher hopes for what Pope Francis might be able to do. One of the heroes in your new Eckhart book is Oscar Romero. Were you surprised by Pope Francis’s decision to go 180 degrees on Romero—from banning him as a candidate for sainthood to putting him on a fast track?

MATT: Your readers will remember that Pope Francis is from Argentina and he’s quite aware of the many sacrifices and accomplishments made by the base-community movement and the liberation theology movement. Francis has made strong statements against what he calls “savage capitalism,” which is in line with what Oscar Romero fought for and died for. Francis sees these Latin American movements as very much in line with the spirit of Vatican II. Thanks to the previous two papacies the Catholic Church has been decimated in Latin America and millions have left the church to join new Pentecostal churches. This pope is trying to make up for some very lost ground.

RUMI: ‘One spark flew …’

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad RumiDAVID: Let’s give readers some examples of famous figures, we call them Interfaith Peacemakers, who you introduce to Eckhart in this book. Let’s start with Rumi, the Sufi mystic who, to this day, is still a best-selling poet.

MATT: They were from about the same era, but they did not know each other. Eckhart was 13 when Rumi died. But there is this phrase that comes up often in Eckhart, “spark of the soul,” which is similar to passages in Rumi’s writings. There are lots of connections. I also point out in my book that Eckhart liked to refer to the Muslim philosopher Avicenna, who came before Rumi in the Islamic tradition.

DAVID: You mention the similar phrases.

MATT: One of Rumi’s famous lines is, “Ah, one spark flew and burned the house of my heart.” I compare that with Eckhart’s “In the spark of the soul there is hidden something like the original outbreak of all goodness, something like a brilliant light which incessantly gleams, and something like a burning fire which burns incessangly. This fire is nothing other than the Holy Spirit.” So, right there in the opening of that chapter you can see some of the connections.

Eckhart and Rumi were on the same path in many respects. I point out in that chapter that when I published my first big book on Eckhart in the 1980s, the very first response I got was not from a Christian but from a Sufi. I remember he sent me a 12-page article that analyzed passages from Eckhart and he was convinced that Eckhart really was a Sufi. I’ve been thinking about that connection for the last 30 years.

THICH NHAT HANH

DAVID: So, Eckhart might be seen as thinking like a Sufi, but you point out in another chapter that he almost might be considered a Buddhist. You quote Thich Nhat Hanh saying, “If we bring into Christianity the insight of interbeing and of non-duality, we will radically transform the way people look at the Christian tradition, and the valuable jewels in the Christian tradition will be rediscovered.”

MATT: And I quote Eckhart writing, “Love God as God is—a not-God, a not-mind, not-person, not-image—even more, as he is a pure, clear One, separate from all twoness.”

DAVID: And you point out that the Catholic monk Thomas Merton similarly saw connections. Merton read Eckhart along with his readings in Zen and saw kindred spirits. In the latter years of his life, the Christian-Buddhist connection was a powerful pathway in Merton’s reflections and writings.

MATT: This is another example of Eckhart’s amazing insights as a mystic. As far as I can tell, Eckhart never met a Buddhist in his life and he didn’t study Buddhism. So, how did Eckhart make these connections? Well, the answer is that Eckhart discovered bigger truths by going deep into his soul as a Christian.

Let me read from a passage in that chapter where Eckhart writes about loving God in a way that seems close to Buddhist practice. He writes, “How should one love God? You should love God mindlessly, so that your soul is without mind and free from all mental activities, for as long as your soul is operating like a mind, so long does it have images and representations. But as long as it has images, it has intermediaries, and as long as it has intermediaries, it has neither oneness nor simplicity. And therefore your soul should be bare of all mind and should stay there without mind.”

RABBI HESCHEL

DAVID: I realize that we’re talking in shorthand here—very briefly touching on some of the topics readers will find in your book. I want to continue, in this way, mentioning a few more people in your book. Our readers may find one name we’ve mentioned helpful, another irrelevant, so let’s list a couple more. And, next, I want to ask about your chapter with Eckhart “meeting” Heschel.

MATT: I have tremendous tremendous respect for Rabbi Heschel. He is one of the great religious minds and activists in the 20th century. He marched with Dr. King in Selma much to the consternation of many people who supported Heschel otherwise. He said he wanted to go “beneath the dogmas and traditional formulations of the Judeo-Christian traditions which so often have served as substitute for the root experiences of biblical faith.” He was a great scholar and teacher, yet he did not stay in the comfortable halls of academia. He went out and prophetically acted. He walked his talk.

In the title of my Eckhart book, I use the phrase “Mystic-Warrior” in the sense of a prophet being a warrior. A prophet interferes with injustice. When it comes to compassion and justice, awe and wonder, Heschel and Eckhart are on the same page.

HOWARD THURMAN

DAVID: You’ve got Howard Thurman in your Hildegard book and he’s also a figure you compare to Eckhart. And I should add: If our readers aren’t familiar with some of the figures we’re mentioning here—I’m hoping they’re going back and forth between this interview to our Interfaith Peacemaker series of profiles. Heschel is profiled there and Howard Thurman, too.

MATT: In many ways, Howard Thurman was the spiritual genius behind the civil rights movement. Everytime Dr. King went to jail, he carried his copy of Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited with him. And Thurman had actually studied Eckhart. As a young man, Thurman studied under the Quaker teacher Rufus Jones, who often cited Eckhart. There are many connections here, but one of them is Eckhart’s sense of social justice.

Eckhart was very aware of the oppression around him in his day and he stood up and was counted by courageously stepping on the toes of the powerful. And that really is what led to his condemnation for many many years—it was a political act against him for his activism on behalf of the poor. Eckhart was the first intellectual to preach in German. At the time, German was associated with the peasants. He was preaching to the peasants in their language about their being noble people who were bringing Christ daily into the world. At the time, this was considered very offensive by the powerful.

MARCUS BORG / JOHN DOMINIC CROSSAN

DAVID: And I was pleased to see our friends Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan featured in your new book. You write that Eckhart was a pioneer in sorting out what today we would call “the historical Jesus”—separating Jesus the teacher from the Christ figure who is lifted up by Christianity after his crucifixion.

MATT: In that chapter you’re mentioning, I have Eckhart “meet” three figures in the Jesus Seminar—Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan and Bruce Chilton. I’m so struck that Eckhart, in his era, was writing about what is often referred to as a breakthrough in contemporary theology—the assertion that the historical Jesus came from the wisdom tradition of Judaism. Eckhart knew this and wrote about it in his time.

No, Eckhart didn’t reach his conclusions in the same way that Borg and Crossan and the others reached it through their textual and historical analysis. They have resources available to them that Eckhart didn’t have. Crossan and Borg followed different forms of analysis, but ultimately we discover that what we’re hearing from people like Borg and Crossan today actually rests on the similar conclusions drawn many centuries ago by Eckhart, based on his reflections on scriptures as a mystic.

DAVID: So what lies ahead for you as you finish this second book in this “meeting of minds” style? You’ve always got so many projects underway.

MATT: Well, you can give readers links to my website and Facebook page and we try to put my updates there. I definitely will keep traveling and teaching and writing more books. I’m blessed with decent health and I plan to keep going. I’m doing an exciting event in October in Mexico where I’ll be in a program talking about reinventing education, which is one of my major passions. Leonardo Boff, the liberation theologian, will be on that program, too. I met Boff the year I was silenced by the Vatican myself. I went to Brazil to meet and talk with him, then, but I haven’t seen him in person since that time. I’m told this conference likely will draw about 30,000 people and I’m looking forward to the good work we can do together.

Care to read more about Matthew Fox?

MEET THE PEACEMAKERS—Visit our Interfaith Peacemakers department to read more than 100 inspiring profiles of the kinds of men and women Matt Fox includes in his recent books.

VISIT MATT ONLINE—Matt recommends that new readers start with his main website, www.MatthewFox.org, where you can learn more about Creation Spirituality, learn about his various public appearances and keep in touch with news about upcoming publications. You also can keep in touch via Facebook by looking for Rev.Dr.MatthewFox

GET THE BOOKS—Click on any of our recommended links above. If you’re interested in his 365-day inspirational reader, you might enjoy reading our 2011 interview with Matt about the preparation of that book.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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Categories: Author InterviewsChristianGreat With GroupsPeacemaking