In a Nutshell:
The second volume in SkyLight Paths' "Spiritual Perspectives" series presents essays by 16 religious and spiritual teachers from Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Vedantist and interfaith traditions. It examines the central question "What role should America the only remaining superpower play in the world?" Other important topics touched upon in the essays include: What does it mean to be a person of faith and a citizen in the United States? What distinguishes the United States from superpowers of the past? What should America be doing with its resources, energy, talent, and strength? How do the following ideals and principles factor into the present state of affairs: freedom, inalienable rights, separation of church and state, democracy, and the balance between individualism and civic participation?
About the Authors:
SkyLight Paths Publishing describes itself as "creating a place where people of different spiritual traditions come together for challenge and inspiration, a place where we can help each other understand the mystery that lies at the heart of our existence. Skylight Paths sees both believers and seekers as a community that increasingly transcends traditional boundaries of religion and denomination people wanting to learn from each other; walking together, finding the way."
The editors of SkyLight Paths have brought out this formidable volume at a pivotal point in history when the United States is about to embark on its first aggressive war in its history. They are to be commended for taking seriously the idea of spiritual politics and its coming of age in the twenty-first century. Spirituality cannot be separated from politics in the global village. The interfaith dimension of the essays is also commendable.
Sum and Substance:
The book is divided into three sections. The best essays in the first section, "How Did We Get Here? Historical, Political, and Spiritual Perspectives," cover a range of perspectives. Forrest Church, a Unitarian Universalist minister, sheds light on the American creed and the difference between nationalism and patriotism. Kabir Helminski, Shaikh of the Mevlevi Order of Sufis, ponders the nature of the American character and comes up with an incisive metaphor illustrating the nefarious role the United States is playing in the global neighborhood. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion at the Chautauqua Institution and, previously, the first woman to serve as general secretary of the National Council of Churches, calls upon America to practice humility and to fulfill its role as a peacemaker. Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest and founder and president of the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, helps us think about the differences between spiritual power and the toxins of superpowers who try to save the world. Tony Campolo, the founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, criticizes the United States for its new selfishness and lack of generosity.
The second section examines "Making Change Through Our Lives." Buddhist teacher Lama Surya Das challenges America to give up dualism and cherish the connections that tie us to the rest of the world. Rabbi Arthur Waskow relates the story of Pharoah to the contemporary scene. Dr. Eboo Patel, a Muslim of Indian heritage, wants Americans to do some inner work which he calls a "greater jihad." Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh presents spiritual practices for dealing with anger.
The final section of the book looks at "Making Change through Our Spiritual Communities." Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic lay monk salutes American inventiveness and imagines what it would be like to have interspirituality as the wave of the future. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Georgia Harkness Professor of Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, condemns the imperial agenda of the Bush Administration and posits some of the dangerous offshoots of American arrogance. William McD. Tully, pastor of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Manhattan, sees the local parish as the place where the thorny questions of peace must be dealt with. Beatrice Bruteau, an expert in Vedanta and Catholic Christianity uses the metaphor of sharing a supper as a chance to meditate on the moral role of a superpower. M. Basil Pennington, a Cistercian monk, maintains that God is the true superpower.
Quotes To Go:
"Recognizing their own tears in American eyes, people throughout the world expressed unprecedented sympathy for our nation in the wake of September 11. President Jacques Chirac of France proclaimed, 'We are all Americans now.' Today even America is divided against itself. To have squandered both the world's affection and the united spirit of our citizenry in little more than a year represents a tragic triumph of American nationalism over American patriotism." (The Rev. Forrest Church)
"If the world were reduced to the scale of a neighborhood, a third of the neighborhood would be without drinking water, sufficient food, and adequate shelter. The United States would be an expensive apartment building with a sophisticated alarm system and armed guards. More and more we disregard the wishes of the neighborhood and resist most attempts to form cooperative organizations to improve our environment or lend a helping hand to our neighbors. We threaten preemptive attacks against neighbors we consider dangerous (or whose real estate we covet?)." (Shaikh Kabir Helminski)
"Preparation for war is an act of violence, and violence is always a spiritual failure. Only as we show ourselves willing to live nonviolently will we be able to call the world to trust us as peacemakers. In the face of our power, humility is the only spiritual weapon. Much is required of us. Perhaps we are required to risk losing our power in order to gain life for the world which is, after all, God's gift to all of God's children. It seems quite unlikely that we might willingly give up our privileged status, but that may be just what is required of us. The world is on the brink of war, and maybe even annihilation. We are being called to the task of peacemaker." (Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell)
"Americans do not realize that the wealth we have gained since the middle of the twentieth century has slowly made us into very selfish people. We know that after World War II we helped rebuild Europe under the Marshall Plan, and we still think that the same kind of generosity marks our present-day foreign policy. That is not the case. Of the twenty-two industrialized nations in the world, the United States is dead last on per-capita giving to the poor peoples of the world. By way of comparison, let me point out that on a per-capita basis, for every dollar that America gives to the poor of the world, the people of Norway give seventy." (Tony Campolo)
If You Like This Book, You'll Also Want to Read . . .
• The American Soul by Jacob Needleman
• God in the Balance by Carter Heyward
• Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
• Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval by Ira Rifkin (the first volume in SkyLight Paths' Spiritual Perspectives series)
• Power Politics by Arundhati Roy
• Stupid White Men & Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation by Michael Moore