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Human Spirituality in a Pluralistic Context.

In the twenty-first century, the urban centers of the United States are changing. For example, in Los Angeles, a city of immigrants, there is no longer any ethnic majority. Economies are increasingly driven by technology and information rather than by manufacturing or even services. Worship services of various religious traditions are olden divided, serving the needs of "Busters," "Boomers," and older ("traditional") worshippers separately. Furthermore, the gap between rich and poor is wider than in the twentieth century.

Such a context requires concern for both the majority (where one exists) and the individual, the "ninety-nine" and the "one." Parables and stories, useful for making us think at our deepest and most primal levels, give us ways to express such spiritual concern in ways that are both universal and specific. We can think critically about not only the content but also the media used for spiritual expression, seeking balance between both the human and divine sides of spirituality.

Various forms of human spirituality understand God as both infinite and dynamic--mobile, living, and always doing new things. Most forms of human spirituality (in contrast to secular worldviews) understand all truth as God's truth: In God, sacred and secular merge. Judeo-Christian spirituality further envisions God as pursuing human interests, especially those of the poor, weary, and oppressed. Judeo-Christian scriptures articulate a God who communicates with human beings, breaking through our ordinary experiences.

Christians, in particular, believe that the Jesus Christ of the gospels passionately preaches God's love for all human beings, exhorting us to obedient, loving service of each other and God. Jesus, much like a narrative theologian, navigated the pluralistic context of Roman Palestine by telling spiritual stories, emphasizing the truth and the well-being of people rather than of place, tradition, method, or form. Jesus met people on their own terms, individually and culturally, to bring healing and transformation, recognizing individual differences: Jesus ministered both to ordinary people in the marketplace and to religious scholars in the temple and synagogue. An important part of Jesus' authenticity for Christians, then, is connected not only to his divine Christ-hood but also to his human ability to be crude, rude, crass, a Sabbath-breaker, and a friend of sinners in order to affect people at their deepest core.

Jesus' own techniques of embracing spirituality and helping others to find spiritual fulfillment thus differ from those stereotypically (though unfortunately often correctly) associated with Christian evangelism and ministry. Jesus Christ did not seem to presuppose that human beings need to be "put in the mood" to receive God, yet he recognized that human beings are sensual and receive even spiritual information through visual imagery, taste, touch, and hearing. Like Buddhist and Hindu teachers, Jesus did not gloss over the fact that without a vital spirituality, human beings have the potential to be at worst horrifying and fully depraved and at best conservative and opinionated, resisting change. Most forms of human spirituality recognize that although human beings are limited in our ability to overcome obstacles, even those of our own creation, we can know and experience God's love and glory, especially through our senses in moments of spiritual epiphany. Human beings are the beloved of God. The language of the human heart is life experience connected to worship.

Perhaps effective teaching is predicated upon a few unchangeable principles or practices of human spirituality in spite of our pluralistic context--for example, taking care of children and others who are especially vulnerable, whether due to poverty, disability, age, or other social stigma. In spite of our post-modern commitment to the freedom of the private individual and of individual religious bodies, perhaps educators can or should have commitments to some such core values of human spirituality as a whole. The agenda of Judeo-Christian and many other forms of human spirituality is both the "one" and the "ninety-nine." Likewise, teachers must focus on both the needs of the struggling "one" and the "ninety-nine" who conform to expectations. Part of the hope and the promise of human spirituality in its many forms is to offer positive alternatives to the status quo, remaining "in" but not "of" the world, responsible for creating a place, time, structure, and training for human worship, renewal, vision, healing, and hope. By sharing in the challenge and the vision of human spirituality, then, educators can model God's presence in the lives of struggling people.

By abdicating their teaching function, religious institutions may sometimes stand in the way of healing and work against spiritual wholeness, settling for merely guarding their stability and privacy. Indeed, many Christian churches have begun to falter in recent years, perhaps in large part because they have ignored the intellectual as well as spiritual needs of post-modern people struggling with relativism in a pluralistic context. To address these needs, spiritual leaders, educators, and educational institutions must address the despair, loneliness, and alienation post-modern people often feel, helping them to wellness and wholeness while holding firmly to core human spiritual ideals. In order to do this, educational experiences must attempt to communicate with the individual, to produce some tension with the status quo, and to use secular wisdom and knowledge while maintaining integrity to core spiritual values. In our contemporary pluralistic context, there is no longer a clear division between secular and sacred truth nor, perhaps, should there be.

Heather Ann Ackley Bean, Ph.D. Azusa Pacific University, CA
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Author:Bean, Heather Ann Ackley
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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