success stories

Posted December 9, 2003

Book: Spiritual Manifestos: Visions for Renewed Religious Life in America From Young Spiritual Leaders of Many Faiths
Edited by Niles Elliot Goldstein
Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont, pp. 226

Excerpt from Jacket:

“From the irreverent and playful to the dogmatically stern and clerically cocksure, our Gen-Xers lead us into the millennium.” Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

Young spiritual leaders are beginning to remove the reasons why so many of us have kept religion at arm’s length. By transforming our faith traditions in light of today’s increasing diversity, the search for community, the Internet and or changing lifestyles, these young, visionary, spiritual leaders are helping to create the new spirituality.

Ten contributors most in their mid-thirties, span the spectrum of religious tradition — Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Unitarian, Buddhist — and offer their “visions,” bold spiritual manifestos, for transforming our faith communities and our lives.

Hear how one Catholic priest proclaims “all religion and spirituality ought to be zesty, passionate, rich and deep”; how one rabbi serves a “congregation” on the web for Microsoft and rides in squad cars on drug busts in New York City; how a self-educated “Zen priest” is serving an Episcopal church in Alaska; and how a talented young woman lives her “wild and precious life” changing the world as a nun.

These stories, and others, will challenge our assumptions about what religion is – and isn’t.

Excerpt from the book:

America is hungry.

Lest this sound like the beginning of a breakfast cereal commercial, let me clarify: Some of us are actually physically hungry, as in malnourished. But three is a different sort of hunger, a metaphorical malnourishment that is not satisfied by fortified breakfast cereals. Americans crave meaning, something deep and intangible that has been misplaced along our merry secular way.

Symptoms of this hunger? Books like Conversations with God and The Celestine Prophecy frequently appear on the New York Times’ best-seller list. Televangelists continue to draw an audience, despite the prominent downfall of so many a decade ago. Words and phrases like karma, Zen, “my next life,” inner peace, and nirvana have become common. Huge, evangelical Christian “megachurches” draw in countless disconnected suburbanites. Christian symbols are fashion statements for teenagers. Yoga and meditation classes are now found beyond just New York an California. And even though the traditional churches are not so full as they once were, polls show Americans overwhelmingly believe in God.

The word these days is not religion but spirituality. People are hungry for it, though the secularization of our society has left many of us with little background on the subject. And so we read, talk, study, flip on the TV, submit ourselves to teachers and gurus and pilgrimages, even attend seemingly incomprehensible services to get it. But what is this spiritually and how is it different (if, indeed, it is different) from the religion of our grandparents and great grandparents? Is spirituality just religion dressed up for the turn of the millennium? Is it a basic belief in more than just what we see? Is it a reason to get up in the morning? Is it living in harmony with all that is?

A survey of the world’s most ancient religious traditions will turn up at least several of these answers – and more — in reference to spirituality. The wonderful and confusing thing about the realm of faith and spirituality is that many answers and questions can be simultaneously (and sometimes paradoxically) held together in a kind of patchwork quilt of meaning.

At nineteen, I began my own Southern California kind of spiritual quest. A baptized and confirmed Catholic, I nevertheless embarked on a course that included study and discussion of not only my own faith but of much Eastern religion that I had first learned about through the New Age movement in the early 1980s. I meditated and went to Mass, speculated on possible past lives and became an active member of my local Catholic parish. I discussed modern philosophy (of which I knew zero) and shamanism with my priest, a cultural anthropologist by training. Never did I see a contradiction in these things. And thank God I didn’t. I was experimenting in spirituality, trying various “spiritual foods,” in search, though I did not know it yet, of a deeper and more nuanced view of God, one that could give me perspective and strength in a very complicated world. Eventually I found I had to concentrate my energies in one direction, lest I forever remain adolescently scattered. So I chose my own religious tradition. But the surveying I had done extended the boundaries of my spiritual tastes and did me good.

I was, as are many Americans, hungry for spirituality. Our life has become more materially comfortable, but also more crass, compartmentalized, and sanitized. Once can avoid dealing with the messy human realities (birth, family, community, death, sickness) that naturally lead to spiritual thoughts. Religion and talk about God have not disappeared; they just too often (and I blame both religion and culture for this) seem to have nothing to do with our everyday life. But even so, the need for spirituality does not disappear. When everything is bought and paid for (or appropriately mortgaged), what else do we want from life? What lies below the practical, commercial surface? Where do I go when the deeper questions of meaning and the longing for connection won’t go away?

. . . . The strongest and deepest spiritualities the world can offer still come from the world’s great religions. . . . Like Jacob in Genesis, ancient religious traditions have been around long enough to have really wrestled with God (and with spirituality). Any religion whose only answer about why three is evil in the world is that white devils came along or that Satan controls the United Nations needs to get a life! . . . Human beings need enough ingredients (both questions and answers) surrounding the quest for the answer to evil (traditionally called theodicy) to serve themselves an uncomfortable yet elegant feast of meaning. “Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy?”reasonably asked the Hebrew prophet Isaiah 2,500 years ago. Junk-food religion is amusing once in a while, but it is not nourishing.

Table of Contents:

Martin E. Marty

Introduction: Niles Elliot Goldstein

Spiritual Dining at the American Café
Father Brett C. Hoover — Catholic

Making it yours: Judaism at the crossroads
Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow — Conservative Jewish

The Church as community of dialogue
Rev. Father Greg Kimura – Episcopalian

My vision of the new spiritual life in America
Roshi Norman Fischer – Zen Buddhist

The Protestant counter reformation
Reverends Lynn and Mark Barger Elliott — Presbyterian

Creating an orthodox Judaism
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky — Orthodox Jewish

A good time or a good life? The Black church in the twenty-first century
Rev. Brad Ronell Braxton — National Baptist

The Jewish frontier
Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein — Reform Jewish

Theological democracy in the liberal church
Rev. Stephanie R. Nichols – Unitarian-Universalist

The Church as midwife: ushering in life and hope
Sister Theresa Rickard — Roman Catholic