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In Spirit Matters, Michael Lerner identifies the central problem of our time as the globalization of selfishness, and maintains that the only serious alternative to that unhappy state is creation of an all encompassing spiritual consciousness and the development of “Emancipatory Spirituality.” Using a variety of spiritual practices he would have us develop a deeper understanding of the role of Spirit in the universe and a resonance with Spirit’s agenda in our personal lives. “The world and other people are not here to be used and manipulated by us for our own narrow purposes,” says Lerner, “but to be responded to with awe and wonder and radical amazement. The world is permeated with love and goodness, and the meaning of our lives is to embody that love and goodness and heal the world, so that it is a deeper reflection of this underlying goodness and love.” Central to the power of Lerner’s writing is the tight integration of inner development and outer activity: “The globalization of Spirit requires that we overcome the false dichotomy between changing ourselves and changing societal structures. At times we may be inclined to say, ‘I need to work on my own head first, then later I’ll try to change society.’ But this strategy can be the beginning of a slippery slope toward narcissistic self-absorption, just as the ‘I’ll change society first and then worry about inner life’ strategy can be a slippery slope to the insensitivity and spiritual obtuseness of most contemporary political movements." Throughout Spirit Matters Lerner usually uses the term Spirit to refer to an immanent/ transcendent reality, but at times he also uses the terms God and Highest Reality. He notes that the Hebrew YHVH, the “four letters that Jews never pronounce precisely because they do not signify a specific being,” refers instead to a verb-like world process, to a “transformation of the present into that which can and should be in the future. In this sense, God is the Power of Healing and Transformation in the Universe — and the Voice of the Future calling us to become who we need to become.” Lerner is aware of how radical his vision is. He tells his reader "to leave behind all the visions of God or Spirit as patriarchal, authoritarian, judgmental, coercive, angry, spiteful, or anything of the sort." "Why waste your time trying to argue against a 'god' that doesn't exist?" he asks, and at one point refers to God as "she." (The Jewish Kabbala posits a female element of God, the "Shekinah.")  The strength of Spirit Matters is not just Lerner's vision, but the way he grapples to apply it. Vision without program, vision without strategy, is meaningless. He powerfully rejects the subjectivity that paralyzes a vast section of the religious and spiritual movement: "Many people find it easier to feel than to think, to respond to pain rather than develop strategies to change powerful social systems.  …Many people allow multicultural humility or moral relativism to prevent them from making the kinds of judgments we need to mobilize movements for greater social change."  Lerner understands that without moral vision, programs for social change lose their power. Without vision, the demand for economic human rights gets reduced to individuals struggling for mere material benefits, rather than for a whole new society that cherishes the least of its members. Without vision -- the fundamental belief that the earth and all life is sacred -- the environmental movement is powerless to combat the prevailing market morality. Without vision, piecemeal health care proposals like those of the Clinton administration are easily defeated.  "Emancipatory Spirituality seeks the healing and transformation of the world, so that all our public institutions cooperate to enhance peace, tolerance, cooperation, mutual respect, ecological sanity, social justice, and celebration of the grandeur of the universe."  Reading this now, as America and the world plunges into war, revolution, and chaos, I was struck by the aptness of his words.  It is precisely in times like these that politics is fought out on the basis of spiritual and moral principles, that in fact the fundamental tension in the world today is becoming spiritual -- between the reactionary and emancipatory forms of spirituality.  Lerner's choice has to do with joy, with an exploration of those sources which are responsible for creativity itself. For example, while acknowledging that we can't rely on our politicians to get us out -- they are part of the problem! -- Lerner points out that at the same time, we can never get out without political action of some kind. What is called for is an experience of deep personal transformation which carries with it a powerful awareness of the connectedness of the personal to, literally, everyone and everything.  I found this book to be nothing less than a redefinition of the sacred in both historical and personal terms, but it is a redefinition which is careful to maintain its roots in various ancient traditions--not least of which is the author's own Judaism. Lerner takes on a wide range of topics -- political, spiritual, and moral--all in the interest of a multifaceted response to the "pervasive notion that we are all disconnected individuals without responsibility for each other's fates." Spirit Matters, with its paradoxical title and its politics-gets-religion message, is a radiant assertion that such a world is possible--indeed, that it is happening right now. I have no doubt that those interested in both personal spirituality and global transformation will find Spirit Matters an inspiring and thought-provoking read. ~review by Lisa Mc SherryAuthor: Michael LernerHampton Roads Publishing, 2000
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