Spirituality in social activismBy Russ Cashin

For some time now, I have felt inspired to write about the phenomenal upswing in social activism, including my own, since the election of 2016. At the beginning of this year, I spoke publicly as a spiritual leader and member of the Interfaith Council of St. George at their sponsored “Prayer over the City” event on the topic of building bridges, which is also the 2017 theme of our church, Free Spirit Community. In that address, I proposed and challenged the idea to those in attendance that there isn’t really as much dissimilarity between people as we have been taught to believe, and I even suggested that at our deepest selves there is really no difference at all.

Since the beginning of 2017, I have come to realize that it was time for me to write more about what I consider and am experiencing as the ever-increasing role of spirituality in social activism — or more simply put, spiritual activism — and the added importance of spiritual leaders of different faiths to weigh in and provide guidance from their unique perspectives on significant social issues of the day. It is from that realization and a generous opportunity offered by The Independent to recognize value in this idea that this column was born.

At our most recent Interfaith Council meeting, I asked for a few volunteers who would be willing to contribute to the writing of this new column, “Spiritual Activism,” and am delighted and grateful that so many of our varied faith leaders have enthusiastically stepped forward to further serve humanity in this timely and relevant way. I will introduce each of them below.

So what exactly is spiritual activism? Being a spiritual activist means working to create a compassionate, loving, just, and sustainable world through means and actions that are also compassionate, loving, just and sustainable. Spiritual activism includes the practice of deep, nonjudgmental listening and compassionate communication as a way to build caring communities, raise awareness, and elevate consciousness. At the heart level, we are all spiritual activists.

By “compassionate,” we mean that we prioritize our responses to others from a place of humility and empathy and act from that place of connection with one’s highest ethical, moral, and spiritual principles.

By “loving,” we mean that we first love ourselves and also love others, even if sometimes we don’t like them or their behavior! “Love” is a verb, an action word. A spiritual activist endeavors to practice “love in action.”

By “just,” we mean a world where all forms of inequity and dehumanization are overcome not only through the necessary legal and political channels but, more importantly, through consciousness raising and the transformation of peoples’ hearts and minds that can only come from empathy, understanding, trust, and compassion.

By “sustainable,” we mean that we advocate for living in a world in which all human activity is ecologically sensitive such that the world functions in a way that ensures the longevity and well-being of the life support system of the planet and its inhabitants, and we see the inherent beauty, awe, and wonder of the universe and our world. We work to enhance our appreciation of and our own sense of interconnectedness with all of life.

In the spirit of this column, I would like to share with you a story.

Recently, members of the Interfaith Council of St. George were invited to participate with the Community of Christ in a potluck dinner and dialogue with a few of our neighbors from the Muslim community. For over two hours, we, a varied group of faith leaders, shared wonderful food, learned about each member, and asked many questions (and dispelled many myths!) regarding Islam and the Muslim faith.

As I listened to their individual stories, I was again reminded that regardless of attire, race, religion, gender, or any other qualities we may deem “different,” I became intensely aware of each person’s innate humanness. It was a heart-opening and humbling experience, one of many more to come as we connect more regularly and deeply with this wonderful and often misunderstood community.

We really do all share the same human feelings and have similar desires and needs, not just of the essentials of life like food, clothing, housing, health, etc., but also of inclusiveness, compassion, care, and love. Our hope and fondest intention in this column is to share stories, thoughts, and commentaries that will challenge you to open to yourself and to others with words and actions of kind-heartedness.

With that, I am deeply honored to introduce our contributing faith and spiritual leaders. Each is a current member of the Interfaith Council of St. George and will engage us in social and/or environmental topics of their own choosing using the principles of spiritual activism above as a guide for this column. Here is a brief introduction to each contributor.

Mike Kruse

Kruse, a spiritual leader of the Unitarian Universalist Church, has been a member of the church for 40 years. He has served as a board member of five churches in four states and was a co-founder of a church in Chandler, Arizona. He is a longtime social activist who allowed himself to be voluntarily arrested at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site while protesting the nuclear testing that drifted downwind into St. George.

Rev. Michael Chamness

Chamness is the pastor of Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist Church. He is beginning his 27th year of ordinated ministry and has served churches in Las Vegas, Denver, and St George. His emphasis in ministry is mission, outreach, and music.

Pastor Emily Rose

Rose currently serves the Community of Christ Church and travels frequently to southern Utah from her home in California to serve as pastor for the Community of Christ Church in St. George. She brings a compassionate and caring ministry in her outreach to marginalized groups in the St. George area.

Carmella Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick has been president and spiritual leader of Unity Center of Positive Living for about five years. Previously, she was a spiritualist in Illinois and eventually ended up attending Unity Church due to the metaphysical nature of their teachings.

Russ Cashin

I am a spiritual leader and cofounder of Free Spirit Community, an inclusive, nondogmatic interfaith church. I am ordained as both a minister and maggid (Jewish itinerant preacher), have previously served on the board of directors of a Jewish renewal synagogue, and am a member of the Network for Spiritual Progressives, advocating compassion and caring as fundamental “first” values in society.

As spiritual leaders in our community, it is our intent to deliver to the reader insightful and thought-provoking wisdom through this column and to demonstrate that it is now time to prioritize kindness, compassion, and caring over the existing measure of money, power, and control in our society.

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