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The Pathology of Liberal* Spirituality

The Pathology of Liberal* Spirituality

One pathology of political liberalism is to equate calmness with maturity and anger with immaturity. Many who have been enculturated as middle class liberals (particularly the white ones) may shed tears for injustice, but don’t get too riled up about injustice. And so, when they come into contact with an angry poor person, or angry person of color, it is easy for them to think: “Well, I certainly care about injustice, but I don’t get worked up about it…these folks are behaving like children!”

This tendency gets spiritualized as such folks go to nice liberal churches where the homilist never raises their voice as they calmly read their written reflections. And when they prioritize silent spiritual practices and read (or perhaps misread) authors like Richard Rohr or other writers that encourage a sort of anti-dualism. They conclude that calling anything “evil” is just some sort of immature form of spirituality.

At a certain point, out of a paternal or maternal compassion, they go forth to help the angry oppressed mature spiritually, as they did. They quote MLK and Gandhi and Jesus (or at least the nicer bits) to remind everyone of the better angels in our nature. They lift up nonviolence as a virtue whenever voices cry too loudly for justice.

Deep down inside, they know that if we can come together in civility and vulnerability, we can figure this out. But first these angry folks have to let go in the spirit of reconciliation.

This reminds me of an old tweet from Zellie Imani reminding us that calls for nonviolence from the privileged to the oppressed are fraught:

Context matters. Pacifism and nonviolence ONLY make sense when they are developed among folks who would otherwise see violence as the reasonable course of action. A prescriptive nonviolence that comes from comfortable oppressors is worse than worthless. It usually reinforces the status quo.

A spirituality centered on silence and detachment can be powerful. But, again, these practices only really make sense within the context of solidarity. When we are pathologically disengaged or prone to political apathy, contemplative practice becomes problematic. If we habitually avoid the oppressed and become, therefore, inattentive to those who suffer, our practices will become a spritualized buffer.

Please understand. I’m not rejecting nonviolence and contemplation. I am a mystic, a contemplative, and a pacifist. In my life and work, I advocate a contemplative posture in the quest for spiritual and political liberation.

Nevertheless, many of us learn contemplation and nonviolence in a way that wittingly enshrines a sort of disengaged white middle class consciousness.

Unfortunately, so many advocates of contemplation and nonviolence fail to recognize this problem. Instead, they seem to operate from the assumption that, merely by doing contemplation, people will simply wake from their slumber to the pulsating world of reality and become aware of the nature of oppression.

But this is impossible without real compassionate solidarity with those who suffer. The key words here are “compassionate” which (at root) means to “suffer with” and “solidarity” which basically means “to be bound together.”

Without suffering with the oppressed, and being bound together in the struggle for liberation, contemplative spirituality and nonviolent politics are dead.

*”Liberal” is a contested term. For more of what I have in mind, read my recent post Liberal/Leftist/Progressive/Radical: What do they mean?

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The Program in Prophetic Spirituality

The Program in Prophetic Spirituality

Our first intensive is at Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

The Center for Prophetic Imagination exists to nurture prophetic witness. And one of the ways we do this is through our two year Certificate in Prophetic Spirituality.

Do you long for a just world? Do you believe that it is the Spirit that has put that longing within your soul? Now, more than ever, the world needs prophetic voices. We’ve created our Program in Prophetic Spirituality for people like you.

Maybe you’re a young adult that is struggling to find your niche in the world. Or you’ve been working in ministry or activism for a while, but feel on the edge of burnout or simply recognize that you need to make changes in the way you are living out your vocation.

There are two ways to engage in our Program in Prophetic Spirituality:

  1. Apply for our 2 year cohort-based program. Over the course of 2 years, you’ll take five 1-week intensives and two online courses.
  2. Apply to individual intensives and online courses on your own schedule.

Folks who complete all five intensives and the two online courses will be awarded a Certificate in Prophetic Spirituality, even if they don’t taken them in sequence.

By participating in our Certificate in Prophetic Spirituality, you will:

  • Reclaim a Christianity where justice and spirituality are one.
  • Discern a deeper sense of vocation.
  • Experience the Spirit of God in a deeper, transformative way.
  • Understand the interconnection between God, the land, and humanity.
  • Receive validation that you aren’t alone.
  • Find new courage to take the lead in reshaping or challenging unjust systems.
  • Cultivate new practices for integrating spirituality and action.
  • Earn continuing ed credits.
About the Certificate in Prophetic Spirituality.

The emphasis of our Certificate in Prophetic Spirituality is the work of prophetic ministry–that work that exists at the intersection of deep spirituality and radical praxis.

Our program has been designed with two complimentary constituencies in mind: faith leaders who long to go deeper into the practices of prophetic action and activists who want to anchor their work in deep spiritual vitality.

Our program draws upon the wisdom of spiritual directors and activists, scholars and storytellers, wilderness guides and urban artists. 

The five core intensives of our two year certificate draw upon a significant time in the life of Jesus:

  • Jesus in the wilderness (intensive one)
  • Jesus in the countryside as he heals the sick and casts out demons (intensive two)
  • Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (intensive three)
  • Jesus in the Temple (intensive four)
  • Jesus’ death and resurrection (intensive five)

Two online courses supplement these intensives with deeper study in the history of radical Christian spirituality as well as the nature of the oppression with which we struggle.

Together, we will embark on a journey of transformation that will re-shape our way of seeing and engaging the world so that, like the prophets, we might become people of action who are deeply rooted in the presence of God.

For more information, visit CPI’s website.

Scholarships are Available

Due to some generous grants, we are now able to offer needs-based scholarships. Availability is limited, so apply now to increase the possibility of receiving financial aid.

We will prioritize giving scholarships to applicants in our full 2 year program. However, assistance may be available to those who plan on applying to individual intensives. 

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