Monday, December 15, 2008

Spiritual resources for the crisis

Yesterday's "Speaking of Faith" program on public radio had an interview with Parker Palmer about the economic crisis, and how we can make use of our faith in dealing with it. It's very interesting, and can be found here. In fact, they're collecting a whole series of resources about this.

And in church, the appointed Psalm for Advent 3 was 126: "Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev." Sometimes these readings come up in a really providential fashion. Anyway, that's one to tape to the bathroom mirror until the crisis is over.


Becky Haney said...

Thank you, John, for pointing out the Parker Palmer article. Palmer has shaped my thinking about teaching, life together, and the integration of spirituality with intellectual pursuits. The article seemed helpful in bringing up questions about how we think and act in our communal life as we move through the lessons from these economic times. The theme of seeking inner guidance through communal discernment struck me as what we are trying to model and teach here - though I don't hear it spoken of in those terms. To me, this is an integral part of economic life together...

This article by Palmer also seems to me to be an important corrective to the the lack of emphasis given to the inner life (which is not just "prayer", but true spiritual disciplines, discernment and quietude in community) in the current traditions of most Protestant traditions. See, e.g., Richard Foster's classic, "Celebration of Discipline."

Here is a longish quote from the article, I would enjoy hearing what others thought of the entire article.

"...A parallel point can be made about the economic terrors that now engulf America: at some level, most of us knew they were coming. Who doesn't know that a society in which the rich get richer while the poor get poorer is a society that will someday have to pay the piper? Who doesn't know that when a relatively small fraction of the world's population uses its power to command and consume a disproportionately large fraction of the world's resources, the chickens will come home to roost? Who doesn't know that an economic system that encourages us to live beyond our means and refuses to regulate greed is one in which our avarice will come back to bite us? Who doesn't know that at every level of life, from personal to global to cosmic, what goes around comes around?

...The problem is not that we don't possess a capacity to know these things. If we didn't, we wouldn't have all the colloquialisms I just used! The problem is that the knowledge we need, like the seismic shifts that create eruptions, originates underground. It comes from a place within us deeper than our intellects, a place the poet William Stafford calls "a remote, important region in all who speak," a place sometimes called the inner teacher or the soul.

...But rarely do we allow ourselves to go to that place. Instead, we fill our lives with noisy distractions, blocking our access to insights that might scare us but could also save us. The purpose of an authentic "inner life" retreat is not to flee from a frightening world, but to give ourselves access to those deeper sources of knowing that can help us find our way through what we fear."

Steven McMullen said...

Two comments:

1) I dislike the quote from the beginning of the piece that Becky cites. It seems to indicate that the wage inequality is the cause of the current crisis. I will buy that part of the problem was "an economic system that encourages us to live beyond our means and refuses to regulate greed" but inequality?

This is not a super important point, except that this sounds like he has a particular narrative that is interesting to him, and when bad things happen, he has to fit it into that story. In reality, I don't see that the underlying causes of inequality in this country are more than tangentially related to the current crisis.

2) This article seems to have a strange idea of spirituality. I really have no idea what he means by the following phrases:

-"a place sometimes called the inner teacher or the soul."
-"those deeper sources of knowing"
-"as Merton went deeper within himself and touched the collective consciousness."

This is strange stuff. I am not much of a contemplative, but this language does not feel right to me, probably because he talks about "soul" and "learning from within," and "collective consciousness," but he never mentions God. I don't see socially applicable knowledge coming from within me.

I do not get a Richard Foster connection when I read this. Perhaps I should, but Foster seemed much more groudned than this.

John Tiemstra said...

A couple of replies to Steve.

1) Here's my interpretation of the role of inequality in the problem. I'm not sure it's inequality per se, but rather the tendency over the last 35 years or so for wages for the bottom 60 percent of the labor force to lag behind the growth of productivity and GDP. This creates a situation where people aspire to a growing standard of living that exceeds the growth of their incomes. They accommodate this by a) demanding tax cuts, b) taking bigger risks with their financial wealth, c) reducing savings, and d) going into debt. Demanding higher wages is off the table, because they're told that that's supply and demand.

2) My interpretation of Palmer's view at this point is that he is suggesting that our religious and moral sensibilities, formed since a very early age by our families, churches, and culture at large, often give us good instincts about what is right and wrong. "Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten." This is especially true for people who have maintained a disciplined spiritual life by attending worship, praying, reading the Bible, and so on. This knowledge is more reliable than the sophisticated arguments made by political and business leaders that come with a hidden ideological, or even class, agenda.

Becky Haney said...

Steve's comments are very helpful to me. I agreed heartily with Palmer's article and wondered what language and background I might be taking for granted. Steve helpfully pointed out some important points.

Steve comments that the beginning quote, "sounds like he has a particular narrative that is interesting to him, and when bad things happen, he has to fit it into that story." I would not have thought to put it that way, but I agree. However, I believe he is referring simply the Biblical narrative. This is a continuation of our story as God's chosen, given abundant blessings and then turning away from God's path. See the prophets from the OT, Amos is a great example, and the call to resist the temptations of wealth and power in Jesus' temptations in the desert, and letters, etc. in NT.

As far as the strange language about the inner life and lack of reference to God, I believe it is partly due to Palmer's Quakerism - the inner light IS God. But, it is also written in these general terms so that it can resonate with a broad range of spiritual languages. These phrases are grounded in scriptural references (the "still, small voice" of God heard by Elijah in the cave) or from Ephesians, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being." etc.

I would be curious to learn how contemplation is or can be more integrated into the reformed worldview. And what that language might look like.

Evert Van Der Heide said...

My reaction was similar to Steve's on both points. (And, similar to his, mine was based on initial reaction, not contemplation.) Palmer's statements of what caused the current crisis distracts from the point he is trying to make and editorializes too much if what he is trying to get accross is his second point (which I assume is the case). I view this as just a mild distraction.

I share Steve's second reaction, too, that Palmer introduces the need for spiritual help to deal with the crisis in too mild a manner. I doubt that it would be helpful for those he might be trying to reach.