MIROSLAV VOLF’S LATEST BOOK: FLOURISHING: WHY WE NEED RELIGION IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD AND SPIRITUALITY
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Scot McKnight tweeted that Miroslav Volf produced a new book about what it means to live the good life (Yale Univ. Press, Jan 11, 2016). I grabbed it up on Audible.com and began listening because I need to beef up my “social context” for my doctoral Thesis proposal (then I had to buy the print version too). In self-interest, I need to present ‘why does our culture need classic spiritual practices today?’ I ask the question if our culture is languishing – are we busy at no good thing? Are we spiritual with a small “s” rather than deeply connect to the transcendent GOD, intimate with the unknown One? I propose we need greater intimacy with God and the 4th century desert practices (paideia) and its culture, largely ignored by Evangelicals, is the effective means of deepening one’s intimacy with God.
Volf teaches at Yale University’s Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and offers a popular undergraduate seminar called “Life Worth Living.” See David Brooks‘ YaleNews‘ Feb 23, 2016 interview with Miroslav Volf.
Here is a tasty quote of Volf from the YaleNews David Brooks’ interview:
"The danger is that students become experts in means but remain amateurs in ends, immensely adept in accomplishing discrete tasks, but lost when it comes to the art of living."
In other words, anyone with an iPhone can look up a bio of Karl Marx and his Manifesto and also YouTube videos of kittens doing dangerous funny stunts – and have trouble understanding which is more important for living the good life.
I believe Volf accurately assesses what some of us “older” Christians sense but cannot put our finger on, regarding ‘why does social media, the media, technology, science, and consumerism seem to degrade the human soul?’ We tend to keep quiet because we all know that it is just old people resisting change. But Volf shows that it may be due to globalization’s dehumanizing effects. And I will say it now, Volf also believe globalization is not evil but a powerful pathway to the good life – IF we can tolerate the voice of faith and religion. Spirituality and its transforming force makes us adept as the art of living.
From a spirituality vantage point “the good life” or “a life worth living” one’s intimacy with God is paramount to the good life. Of course, any personal spirituality that is not beneficial for others is not Christian spirituality. Personal piety is not the end, but rather the means to transforming the world around us.
Our secular spirituality, which should be an oxymoron but isn’t, believes religion should take a backseat to western culture’s moral exclusivism, and political exclusivism. Volf argues that far from Christianity or Islam being intolerant, it is globalization that wins the intolerance award (Volf, Flourishing, 100). This intolerance looks as mundane as social media’s dogma – everyone MUST be immediately socially connected – and as sophisticated, mildly-ignoring western affluent consumerism’s pervasive pull to consume at the expense others, including the environment. (I added a bit of my own stuff here.) Globalization is the most intolerant impersonal force on the planet today. Globalization may as well be today’s de facto religion.
As the Volf-Brooks interview quote above reveals, globalization is not necessarily producing the good life on its own. But when coupled with a particular religious exclusivism and political pluralism the good life is possible according to Volf (Volf, Flourishing, 160).
Not only do I find Volf’s book helpful for understanding the climate and culture of globalization’s force upon spirituality, but I find it extremely helpful for making sense of tolerance of hot topics such as gay marriage and dealing with radicalized jihad, that is, ISIS.
Volf makes that case that religion, far from being the pariah of the planet, fomenting war and violence, it is the historic and promising way to the good life. But is not just any form of religious expression. It is a very nuanced expression of conservative “religious exclusivism.”
I am not done with the book. I am stuck on chapter four… listening, reading, listening, reading. I wish I had someone to discuss and further explicate Volf’s thought. In the meantime, Thesis proposing pushes me to expedience, and I will leverage Volf’s comments on the historic supremacy of transcendence over the mundane for my own work. Thank you Professor Volf (and Professor McKnight). Volf, I wish I would have had you for my own MDiv at Fuller, and McKnight, perhaps I can take a course with you at Northern (after my DMin).
And I will finish Professor Volf’s book because I am excited to see how it ends. If you’re up for the challenge you may wish to read Flourishing as well.
By Pastor Dan and Laurie Wilburn
What is Lent…?
The Lent season starts on Ash Wednesday (this year, February 10th). Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 days Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on your forehead as a sign of mourning and repentance to God (telling him we are sorry for the times we mess up and not being who he created us to be). Lent lasts for 40 days (some traditions say the six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday – not counting Sundays, some say the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday which is the beginning of Holy Week). Either way, the 40 days commemorate Jesus’ time of prayer and fasting in the desert (see Luke 4: 1 – 13).
Lent is intended to be a time of fasting and/or practicing spiritual disciplines:
– To help us repent of our sins and of our lack of pursuit of God and his desires for us; and
– To reflect on Jesus – his life, his suffering, and his death and resurrection.
Use your this Lent Guide as a way to lean in to this season and draw nearer to our God!
The General Plan for this season of Lent…
This season of Lent you can rally a group of friends or extended family every Sunday night to have a Lent discussion (like many of you did for Advent). However, it might also be a more Lent-like approach to have just your family to be together and reflect.
When people get together they often have snacks. Since Lent is often a time of giving up something, consider forgoing the special snack we encourage families to have during Advent and serve a “lent-like” snack. Maybe serve toasted Naan bread or make your own bread and just have water to drink.
We want to challenge Lakelanders to do four things during each week of Lent that we will then discuss in our family/friend groups each Sunday evening of Lent. It is a simple plan – appropriate for Lent…
1. STOP: Stop/disrupt your usual media usage
a. Adults: Stop your usual intake of news media, worldly voices (e.g., stop reading the newspaper, listening to the TV/Radio news, FB, etc)
b. Kids: Give up a tech game (e.g, Madden Mobile) or a most used social media outlet (Instagram, Twitter…)
2. START: Start listening to the voice of God in scripture.
a. Adults: Use your usual media time to read the Bible. Read (or listen to) a chapter of Luke each day. After 24 days… just keep reading the Bible.
b.Kids: Spend 5-10 minutes a day reading your Bible
3. GIVE: (Everyone) Work on how you can give something away to a stranger at least once a week. Be creative. Some ideas include:
a. Give someone a kind word. Tell someone (in person or in a note) their hair looks nice or they have a kind voice. Be sincere and specific.
b. Give of your time to serve someone. It can be as quick as taking someone’s grocery cart back in the store for them or more involved like serving at a soup kitchen.
c. Give of your resources – Pay for the groceries of the person in front of you or the fast food bill of someone in the drive through. Write a check to a charitable organization that has been on your heart. Hand someone who appears to be in need a $10 bill. What if someone compliments an article of clothing or jewelry? Have you ever considered giving it to them? Yikes!
4. RECEIVE: (Everyone) As an act of receiving what God has given us, ask each family member to write with a Sharpie on a sticky note (or have the parent write for their child) one thing for which they are grateful. Do this each night (Monday-Saturday). Place the sticky notes on a wall in your kitchen or living room, on your fridge or kitchen cabinets. Don’t remove your old ones, keep adding new sticky notes (with different things to be grateful for) each day. By the end of Lent you will have a house full of gratitude.
EACH SUNDAY of Lent (2/14, 2/21, 2/28, 3/6, 3/13, 3/20)
1. Gather around your sticky notes. Take a few moments to have each person read his or her notes for the week aloud. Then have each person pick their favorite and tell why they picked that particular thing for which to be grateful.
2. Discuss how you “gave” in the past week. Talk about how the receiving person reacted and how you felt.
3. Share as desired about your “stop” and “start” activities. How did it go? What did God say or do through these things?
4. If you have a story that would encourage others, post it for other Lakelanders (unless you stopped social media!) Hashtag #lccclent