Category Archives: 21st Century Enlightenment

Pertains to issues of stewardship and the commons.

Membership

I have long believed that we are products of our communities. Religious communities were once the norm in America. That’s no longer true and the “nones” (no affiliation) outnumber the members of any other denomination.

I do not advocate for religious dogma, though I do experience that seeking spiritual enlightenment contributes to the quality of my life. Here is my column for Sunday October 15th that illustrates how enthusiastic participation in a community can make life better.

In addition to joyful and uplifting communities, there are communities of fear, hate, and cynicism. The choice of whether we nurture or poison ourselves is ours to make.

Productive Conversations

I’m left with exasperation, anger, and deep dismay when I try to talk with some people about what’s real and what’s not. The cult of agreement surrounding beliefs held by Trumpists and those who advance conspiracy theories makes productive conversation seem impossible.

The News Literacy Project has taken on the challenge and is offering a seminar for anyone interested in having productive conversations with true believers. Sign up for the webinar using the links in the flyer below.

Common Purse?

A writer I referred to in an earlier post remarked about a group of adults living together in New York City, pooling their resources. It was an aside to a discussion of the decline of community in the US.

It’s a mistake to regard such arrangements as weird or novel–they simply go by another name. Here are some contemporary examples:

  • Families. Husband and Wife both work these days, and in many families young adult family members live under the same roof and contribute.
  • College Fraternities. Students share a house, pool resources for meals and services.
  • Religious Orders. Monks and nuns often live together in a “monastic enclosure” or house where work and expenses are paid out of a common fund.
  • Roommates. In academic and urban settings, singles share a suite of rooms to save on rent.
  • Ashrams. There are a number of ashrams in the US where people pool resources to participate in a spiritual community.
  • Group Homes. Many charities operate group homes to support vulnerable people or as half-way houses for people who are learning to live independently.

You could probably think of more examples of common ways that Americans form affinity groups to support one another in meeting basic needs for food, shelter, and leisure time. It’s not the anomaly that it might seem at first.

America has drifted away from some traditions that supported the instinct to combine resources for the common good. In the 20th Century, men organized clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, the VFW, and the American Legion. These clubs provided networks of mutual benevolence and social contacts while doing public service. In the 21st Century most of these clubs struggle to attract new members.

Country Clubs organized around Golf, Tennis, Pickleball, and other sports seem to be holding their own, but the focus has shifted to the sport, and away from the mutual benevolence of a strong social network.

Volunteer Fire Companies were once the working man’s equivalent of a social club. Members would develop close personal relationships while training to fight fires. They experience a special bond because the rely on each other to be safe while facing danger. But the burden of increased risks, daunting training requirements, and the athleticism needed to perform the firefighting role have combined with a decline in the social motivations making it difficult to attract new younger members. It’s less common for a person to live and work in the same community. Commuting and changes of employment take their toll.

Slow change, which happens over decades, easily escapes our attention. The breakdown of these formerly common social networks of interdependence and community is only clear retrospectively and maybe only to old-timers like me.

I don’t think the change is for the good. I believe that some of what divides us politically is the illusion that we can do without parts of our society, relegating them to a lower status. The nation, each state, and our municipalities are “common purses” that exist to serve the common good. Some would privatize all of it, thinking that they would prefer to pay only for the goods and services they desire without regard for social good. The benefit of the common purse is not appreciated.

Lost Community?

Jake Meador, writing in The Atlantic observes:

The Great De-churching by Davis and Graham finds that the defining problem driving out most people who leave [their church] is … just how American life works in the 21st century. Contemporary America simply isn’t set up to promote mutuality, care, or common life. Rather, it is designed to maximize individual accomplishment as defined by professional and financial success. Such a system leaves precious little time or energy for forms of community that don’t contribute to one’s own professional life or, as one ages, the professional prospects of one’s children. Workism reigns in America, and because of it, community in America, religious community included, is a math problem that doesn’t add up.

“Why Did So Many People Stop Going to Church?” ~ The Atlantic

Pernicious individualism and workism may have spawned the loniliness, depression, social divisiveness, and other social ills of our time. Humans have prospered by banding together, but somehow our culture doesn’t seem to foster values that nourish a healthy community life.

Don’t dismiss this article as being about religion or spirituality — it’s about what bonds us as a human family. Lots of good ideas here. Read the article, follow the links.

Pondering What Ails US

There are two recent articles that I’m pondering because they point to something more of us need to attend to: the erosion of our core values.

The first article appeared in the New York Times under the headline “Money’s up, religion and patriotism are down.” It presents the statistics and makes the case that most of us are more interested in personal prosperity than we are in service to “goodness.” While religion can be practiced in solitude, most people identify with a religious community and would regard their observance as a social activity. We invest time and money and we bond with the people who are members of our faith community. So it’s noteworthy when fewer people are moved to be observant and practice their religion with others.

Patriotism is not just flags and Independence Day fireworks. It requires a commitment to a cause larger than one’s self. Military service, altruistic public service, working for good government, voting, not cheating on taxes–all of the civic activities we invest sweat and treasure in–that’s patriotism one can see and measure.

The second article comments on why so many Protestant churches are in decline. The author, a progressive minister, thinks the traditions and practices of many churches no longer call people to be deeply committed to one another or to the core values of their faith.

As I look at the many existential problems America faces (climate change, pollution, political stagnation, extremism, nuclear brinksmanship), all of them are sourced by individual and collective failure to honor core values.

How do I contribute to the unsettling trends these writers perceive?

And you?

Benefits of Community

Today I received a remarkable fundraising letter. It came from Holy Cross Monastery, a community of Episcopal Benedictine monks that Marguerite and I have been close to for more than 40 years.

The letter is remarkable for its intimacy and for the splendid way it captures the essence of the enlightenment members of the community have found together. Guests get it when they visit by experiencing the energy of those who live there in community with one another.

Read it for yourself here:

Organized religion and the practice of communal faith are on the wane in the United States. Spirituality in the form of individual practices like meditation is very popular. Still, individual spirituality doesn’t confer the benefits of a community of seekers with a lively mutual interest in spiritual and personal growth.

Covid-19 forced us into isolation. Many of the ordinary ways we experienced community were put on hold. Brother Robert alludes to this in his opening paragraph and shares how the monks gathered for their annual meeting spent time in small groups to recapture what was lost for three years. As in a marriage, living in an intimate community is work. He observes, “The soul proceeds by expansion and inclusion.” One’s spirit is diminished by isolation.

There is much wisdom packed into these seven paragraphs. I’m prompted to ask, “How do the communities that I participate in feed my soul and nurture my well-being?” And how do I reciprocate?

Servant Leaders

Lately, I have been thinking about being a follower. It’s a natural human trait to both follow and lead, depending on circumstances.  And it says a lot about my personal spiritual growth when I examine how I do both. In family matters, business, and politics we reveal who we are by how we lead or who follow.

Here is my column as published today in the Bucks Courier Times.

Seeking Truth?

We all should be seeking truth, but we don’t. Truth is frequently disturbing, and we go into self-deception. Instead of seeking the truth, we seek out others who bolster our self-deception. Today, Sr. Eileen White, who coordinates the panel of From a Faith Perspective writers I serve with, published an excellent Christian perspective on self-deception about January 6th coverage.

If you or someone you know refuses to watch the hearings and avoids the news summaries, this brief article gives a gentle nudge toward seeking the truth.

Sr. White urges us to question our beliefs. What’s real and true can stand scrutiny. Lies and deception can’t. Receiving information and seeing things that are discordant with our beliefs takes strength. Discernment takes work. Being cynical and saying, “what is truth?” is a dodge that perpetuates self-deception.