Â Â Â Â Last month, I suggested a few books which envision spirituality in the context of what we in the CCO call “whole life discipleship.” This orientation came to us from Dutch Canadian neo-Calvinists whose spiritual forebearers include the titan of reformational activism, Abraham Kuyper. These Reformed believers developed distinctively Christian organizations,labor unions, a graduate school, art galleries, political parties, designed to embody in culture a communal response to God’s call to unfold all spheres of life. It includes the philosophical rejection of the pagan Greek dualisms between body and soul, profane and secular, which were unfortunately introduced into Christian thinking in the early years of church history, becoming the predominant worldview of the Catholic medieval era and, similarly, of American evangelicalism. Much contemporary spirituality emerges (sometimes unwittingly) from a monastic tradition based on the assumption of dualism. I suggested that as we deepen our prayer lives and draw on the very good strengths of the contemplative tradition, we should keep our dualism-detectors operative, seeking to understand our experience of God in light of biblical revelation which places us in the creation order. Our CCO Kingdom shorthand of “creation-fall-redemption” must be the context for our spirituality.
Â Â Â Plenty of good books on spirituality work with this incarnational idea (recall the important ones I mentioned last month). Or consider sources as different as Howard Rice’s Reformed Spirituality, the new, stunning hardcover by Father Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, or the many studies of Celtic spirituality.
Â Â Â Paralleling the recent Christian fascination with all things monastic and spiritual (Postema, Norris, Nouwen, Merton) the not-so-secular world has been oozing God-talk for a decade. Although old school new age is less popular now than when Shirley MacLaine was hawking reincarnation a few years back, nearly every pop culture counselor is talking soul. Jungians, depth psychologists and every third rock ‘n roll celebrity seem intent on recreating their lives to get in touch with their spiritual side. Feng Shui (home decorating in light of cosmic vibes found in your sacred space) is one of the hottest fads since crystals. Deepra Chopra and the Dali Lama are among the biggest sellers in mainstream bookstores.
Â Â Â In a culture agog with neo-pagan spirituality and a church increasingly shaped by a neo-monastic dualism (except for those already shaped by numbers, growth and dumb statistics), what’s a righteous one to do? More, for CCO, what’s a dualism-resistant, whole-life disciple with a culturally-relevant, Kuyperian worldview to do? Last month’s suggestions are part of the answer. We need to think long and hard about what Holy-Spirited spirituality is in God’s world. It is tricky to engage in meaningful talk, with fundy pietists, anointed charismatics, highbrow liturgists, neo-pagan shamans or Jungian soul doctors, if we don’t know our own view of the soul and a proper piety that emerges from biblically-directed spirituality.
Â Â Â My second prescription is three-fold. Listen to Len Sweet’s new audiobook, SoulSalsa. Read the book, SoulSalsa. Get together with others and do it again. Leonard Sweet, who, from his own Wesleyan heritage is an ally of the Christ-transforms-culture motif which drives the CCO-vision, has got his finger (not to mention his happy dancin’ feet) on the pulse of the postmodern world. He understands and cares about cultural trends and aching postmodern hearts. Disinclined to wring hands over details of deconstruction or postmodern epistemologies, Dr. Sweet wants the church to embody practices which make sense in the soulful world of the new millennium. His wild book offers 17 dance steps (each a different chapter) which will help us sashay onto the multi-ethnic dance floor of 21st century life.
Â Â Â If we’ve got our minds around a non-dualistic, whole-life, creation-based spirituality, Sweet’s steps will surely resonate, showing us how to actually live it. If one needs to be pushed towards such a view, any number of these fun ideas will take you there. For those who got a taste of Sweet’s prayerful side in his gentle Cup of Coffee at the Soul Cafe, this book will deepen that cuppa joe. The lovely ‘Soul Cafe was that new Starbuck’s lite blend; Salsa is a double espresso with a tiazzi chaser that just might keep you up at night. I could quibble with the book’s dismissal of worldview talk. But I won’t, since Rev. Sweet, ever the provacature and King of Metaphor, is just playing with the words. In big bold letters on the back, the book insists, “Get a world life.” He continues, “Getting a Christian worldview is all the rage these days. But how about a Christian worldlife? Got one of those?”
Â Â Â To get your worldview into your life and your life onto (God’s) dance floor, we must become more than just Christian thinkers. We must become artists. Creative. Passionate. Multi-tasking memory makers. Constant learners, liturgists, pray-ers and living prayers. We must become “soul artists.” Some of the good ideas here are not new. For example, Sweet does a great job of reminding us not to gossip and to mind our use of information. His powerful chapter, “Give History a Shove,” is Campolo-esque and, while much needed, not terribly insightful. In another chapter, he reminds readers of the importance of family and gives some helpful tips. His invitation to create mini-sabbaths (alongside regular times of rest and renewal) is thoughtful and helpful, if not uncommon. But in each case, you can be sure that there will be an unforgettable line, a new twist, a helpful suggestion that (trust me) you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. His call to speak only good of others seems quaintly Victorian but is presented with such contemporary verve it becomes novel and revolutionary.
Â Â Â And then there are the many other chapters, not old ideas dressed up in party cloths, but new ideas that are spectacularly innovative, offered with hopeful elan. He turns a discussion on the role of dirt into a tribute to the joys of doing the dishes which then becomes a metaphor for dealing with the “dirt” in our own lives. Ditto for his multi-layered reflection on recycling. In the chapter “Bounce Your Last Check,” he summarizes, “Soul artists receive good things gracefully and give it all away in the end.”
Â Â Â Sweet’s extraordinary vision of how our attitudes and habits effect our world is seen in the first chapter: “Mezuzah Your Universe.” He invites us to a lifestyle of ritual, a Jewish sense of the sacred, routines which remind us of God’s active presence in all things. From suggestions on how to “mezuzah meetings” to a debate about birthday parties, this is fascinating stuff. Through it all is an assumption (made explicit in his excellent chapter on sex) that sacred stories and rituals become artifacts which clarify and make visible the reality of God’s grace.
Â Â Â I don’t like the way Len devalues work, and I disagree with his claim (made in SoulTsunami) that the Bible has no developed teaching on work. But his chapter “Play At Life” is so exciting and convicting, I am nearly convinced. If only we could hold out a vision of life as a passionate adventure so that our young disciples could become soul artists who are free and innovative and joyous, even in the workplace. If you are open to imaginative and winsome admonishments to new ways of faithfulness, you can’t help but engage this exciting material. His rhetoric literally gets the heart beating. (Can anyone say “Jubilee Keynote”?) Recently, I heard a lecture of his on “Einstein’s brain and Pikachu’s heart.” You gotta love a guy that clever.
Â Â Â The last chapter of SoulSalsa begins, “God’s time is dance time. Even in the midst of a cultural free for all and free fall, disciples dance.” In a bit of playful scholarship, he turns some phrases and shows the history of carols and folk dances which, sadly, Pharisaical reform movements have all but stamped out. Sweet replies, “Yet the haunting words of Jesus judge our prejudices against singing and swaying to the rhythms of the universe: ‘I piped for you and you did not dance.’ (Matt. 11:17). Or, in the street-smart words of a 1990s dance song: ‘No parking, baby, no parking on the dance floor.'”
Â Â Â Some need to give students this book to tether their creative impulses to the faith. Others can use it conversely, to loosen up some up-tight ones, whose spirits are in need of Sweet’s salsa steps. Perhaps share it with your church back home, inviting them to new millennium discipleship. If you are being used by God to help students “mezuzah their universe,” you need for your supporters to understand. This just might get their toes tapping with yours.
Â Â Â As always, Sweet includes dozens of interactive websites, from the silly to the profound, and hundreds of exercises, quotes, sidebars and stories. For anyone who teaches, leads groups, preaches or prays, these resources are well worth the price of the book.
Â Â Â And, like the previous SoulTsunami audiotape, the over-the-top drawer production makes it truly one to have and pass around. In fact, this is the perfect postmodern way to “read” this book, experience it sonically! Start with the tape and then get the book, but don’t delay. The dance floor is waiting!