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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Occupy Spirituality" (Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox)

TITLE: Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation (Sacred Activism)
AUTHOR: Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox
PUBLISHER: Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2013, (288 pages).

This book is an invitation to "occupy your conscience." Finding solidarity in a radical display of standing up for what is right, protests, sit-ins, peaceful demonstrations, and standing up for justice and peace are the open expressions of "occupy spirituality." Based on the common values of food, justice, equality, and freedom, this book speaks about a new generation who are vociferous about these values, famously (or some say infamously) demonstrated in the Occupy movements. Spiritual Theologian Matthew Fox and youthful activist Adam Bucko have come together to issue a call for the new generation to take charge, assuming that the older, Baby Boomer generation has largely taken a back seat in common concerns.

The authors notice a fresh, young, and energized younger generation who are no longer content with sitting back and do nothing. This generation wants to make a difference in this world. It admires the spirit of youthfulness that is able to channel its energies toward worthy causes and charitable purposes. One of the problems with the Occupy movement so far is that it lacks a proper spiritual or moral motivation. Many younger people are ready to take action. They are willing to give up the comforts of the past and deal with the problems of the present. They are prepared to tough it out to create a brave and more promising new future. What they lack is spiritual guidance. This is where Fox and Bucko come in, where the book can be a place where the young and the rest dialogue sensibly and passionately. Spirituality is not about hiding in some obscure monastery or place of refuge. It is about open engagement with a loving heart. Such engagement includes:
  • addressing the problem of rising unemployment;
  • Why educated graduates with advanced degrees are living on food stamps?
  • High price of Education;
  • Inequitable pay and company profits
In order to make a difference, first, one has to "get mad." Second, one needs to be angry with the situation. Finally, one needs proper guidance on how to channel this madness, and anger toward something constructive. This book shows the way through marrying activism and spirituality. The former get things done. The latter provides the reasons, the motives, and the proper attitude in getting things done.

Radical spirituality is one that harnesses moral imagination. While Fox uses the opportunity to flesh out his favourite "Four Paths of Creation Spirituality," Bucko shares five pointers with regards to radical spirituality. Firstly, it is deeply "ecumenical, inter-spiritual, and post-traditional." The authors also argue that the "spiritual but not religious" movement is a reawakening rather than a decline in religious awareness. Secondly, it is "contemplative and experience based" though the authors also acknowledge that one can be addicted to experience. As long as the experienced has a conceptual backing, that would be more solid. Thirdly,  practice must proceed from contemplation. Fourthly, spirituality must breed action. Fifth, there is the action that arises out of a calling that brings out joy, celebration, and aliveness. Sixth, it is more than mere democracy, but authenticity and heart connections. They also have a word for the Church, that the Church who lives for itself will die. The Church must get back to the path of serving everyone outside apart from inside.

Bucko shares his story in chapter 3, where recognizing his own life song will help him play the melodies of living. Born in Poland in 1975, he remembers a happy childhood amid a violent public environment. Initially, he found solace in religion. Soon, he moves to a radical fight against totalitarianism. By the age of 14, he was already a part of the "anarchist youth movement." After coming to the United States, he started small through busking. In interacting with homeless people in the cities, he begins his search for meaning and spirituality. His discovery of his own vocation began when he lived with a community to work with suffering people. One touching story was how when trying to help a prostitute get out of prostitution, he learns that existing systems are not sympathetic to her plight. He summarizes his story through a poem: "My God Lives On The Street."

Fox acknowledges that his own vocation is an evolution over time. Formerly a Dominican priest, he lets his own spiritual learning takes priority even when it meant being kicked out of the Roman Catholic Church. One of his spiritual mentors was the late Thomas Merton who helped him find his own vocation, and eventually come up with the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality. His own spiritual paths include fighting dualism, patriarchy, homophobia, denominationalism, fascism, and even the Church's doctrine on "original sin." Instead, Fox proposes "original blessing" as the way to go. He ends with "Twelve Principles of Creation Spirituality."

The rest of the book continues dialogues about discovering one's calling, putting spiritual and practice together, seeking common ground among different generations, and building up a new community that is anchored on ecumenism and inter-spiritual identities. It concludes with an affirmation of "spiritual democracy" and that "any one religion is just as good as another."

So What?

The last quote in the previous paragraph straightaway raises alarm bells. Anyone who says that are not really respecting the uniqueness of each religion. They are at best trying to be nice, and at worse, ignorant of the fundamental tenets of faith of each religion. The point is, religions have their own sacred creeds and doctrines that cannot be denied. Each of them have their own versions of truths, and to equalize them with others will be doing injustice to all. In fact, "spiritual democracy" may very well be a new religion trying to "lord over" all other religions. Fox can only speak for Creation Spiritualists. He cannot claim to speak for other branches of Christianity. Likewise, Bucko speaks mainly from his own contexts and backgrounds, and cannot speak for the rest of the world. That said, they are doing some things right, especially with the call to put faith and practice together, and to work together with people of different faiths and spiritualities.

That said, there are some things that merit consideration. I may disagree with the theologies the author bring forth. However, I recognize that many of the interviews and the interactions with the younger people reported in the book are real and reflect the mood of the new generation. This is the single biggest reason to maintain a listening ear and a readiness to support the cause regardless of different religious persuasions. Stay in touch with their emotions and passions. Do not belittle their energies. Empathize with them. For example, some naysayers complain about the Occupy Movements as a waste of time and resources. A truck driver angrily shouts aloud" "Why don't you all get a job!" will get a reply, "Yes we would, but there are no jobs!" Indeed, that is the reality of our modern world. We may not agree with the protests but we must agree that there are many pressing issues that all of us need to work together to find a solution. Young people are feeling abandoned and ladened with huge debts. With no jobs or societal backing, many are left to fend for themselves. For Fox, courage and generosity are the two key traits necessary for this new generation, and to wake up other sleepy generations. The courage to tackle greedy titans of society, and the generosity to help the marginalized and the helpless.

I think the intent of the authors is good. They marry a lot of diverse opinions and choose not to be critical about any one religious view. There are a lot of commendable actions that arise out of the broken systems of the world. That said, I find the spirituality they propose grossly inadequate. The problem with spiritual democracy and uncritical embrace of ecumenism is that it is a very shaky foundation for building any "Occupy Spirituality." At best, it will be tolerance. At worse, it will be biding time before the next controversy. Actions can only do so much. Experiences can only be valid for a season. After a while, the spirituality will break down due to vague identities of what they truly stand for. Unless of course, Fox and Bucko can convert more people to a new religion called "Occupy Spirituality."

Rating: 3.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of North Atlantic Books and SpeakEasy Book Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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