The most exciting spiritual teachers writing today are reclaiming religious traditions from legalism in favor of a love that can reconnect us with ourselves and with the world around us. It's no surprise that in a society as deeply divided as our current American landscape, spiritual teachers who argue the case for an unruly divine love over self-righteous dogma are met with cautious optimism, great relief and outcries of criticism and heresy. Here are four of the most exciting writers considering spiritual teachings today.
“Jesus was far more relational than he was theological.”
“Regardless of our political affiliations and religious convictions, many of us can see it clearly and we can feel it pressing down like a heavy stone upon our chests: cruelty is trending here.
There is a profound poverty of empathy in our friendships and church communities, our social media pages and political exchanges, our family conversations and our interactions with strangers that we can’t ignore.”
John Pavlovitz made a splash this year with the release of his book A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community. In it, he advocates for Christians to build this table on a foundation of four legs: radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity, and agenda-free relationships.
He advocates for a Christianity that works in truly interfaith ways with other groups, and lets go of any agenda to convert, instead leaving conversion to God and just focusing on being a decent person in relationship with other people. To radiate a radical love and acceptance as he reads Jesus doing in the Bible. To leave no one out.
This message of radical acceptance got him fired from his job as a pastor when he began to call for his congregation to adopt full inclusion of GLBT people. In the current American political climate, Pavlovitz directly challenges political efforts that directly harm many Americans and takes Jesus as a guide for how Christians should directly call out politically motivated harms to marginalized members of society.
Read more of John Pavlovitz's work on his website by clicking here.
“Imperfection is not our personal problem - it is a natural part of existing.”
“Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns...We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small.”
Tara Brach’s message of radical acceptance, rooted in Buddhist practice, seeks to bring us into deeper community with ourselves and with the world around us. In talks such as “Real but Not True: Freeing Ourselves from Harmful Beliefs” and “Embodied Spirit: Mindfulness of the Body” Brach helps listeners access basic Buddhist tenets such as the body as a path to truth and understanding, and the ways that attachment to our ideas can harm our relationships.
You can check out more of Tara Brach's work on her website by clicking here.
“If you accept a punitive notion of God, who punishes or even eternally tortures those who do not love him, then you have an absurd universe where most people on this earth end up being more loving than God!”
“Most people confuse their life situation with their actual life, which is an underlying flow beneath the everyday events.”
Richard Rohr is a franciscan priest, practitioner of a mystical branch of Christianity. He founded the Center for Action and Contemplation, which has multiple branches of programming, including affordable online classes in contemplative practice that are open to the public.
Rohr takes an almost Jungian approach to Christianity and teaches to look at Jesus’s death not as a transaction demanded by an angry God in exchange for human sin, but as an archetypal model for all humans, a path to understand how we can let die the egoic parts of ourselves that stand in the way of our highest potential in order to become our truest selves.
More of Richard Rohr's writing and online classes can be found on the Center for Action and Contemplation's website here.
“To elevate abstract doctrines and dogmas over living, breathing, embodied experiences of God’s love and grace, then, is going the wrong direction. It’s taking flesh and turning it back into words.”
“[Jesus] didn't come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain him, especially the one called 'Christianity'.”
Rob Bell’s books What We Talk About When We Talk About God, What is the Bible? and How to be Here ask readers to approach the Bible on its own terms, as a multi-author, multi-genre text written over hundreds of years that offers emotional, metaphoric language for issues that still face humans today. Bell’s ideas have made him one of the most controversial Christians writing today.
For more of Rob Bell's work, check out his website by clicking here.
CALL TO ACTION
If you’re looking for a new path into an ancient teachings, John Pavlovitz, Tara Brach, Richard Rohr, and Rob Bell are great places to start.
What teachings have you found helpful lately? Comment to share with others the spiritual or religious books, teachers, or podcasts that have spoken to you.