Opinion

Island definitely could use a spiritual revival | Interfaith | Carl Florea

“Being spiritual is not about being moral.”

That’s a statement that can get a person in trouble, certainly a pastor. How can I possibly make such a statement?

All of the great religions of the world have a strong moral dimension. Certainly I am not suggesting that to be a spiritual person is to be immoral, am I? No, but I am suggesting that to categorize the spiritual life in these terms does miss something essential.

I often hear people describe their spiritual growth in terms of their ability to change their behaviors. In this scenario spiritual growth is really a pseudonym for self-control.

Not a bad thing at all. But does it get at the true essence of the life of the spirit? If not, what description would better exemplify what is meant by a spiritual life?

I believe that a truer measure of the spiritual life can be found, not in personal morality, but in the depths of one’s personal connections to all, and most profoundly in those relationships that are most difficult for us.

When we talk about love for one’s enemies, that is where the hard work of the spiritual life comes into play, and where we can really talk about spiritual growth.

Everyone loves those who love them back. The real challenge is to see oneself in relationship to those outside one’s sphere of comfort. This is not some abstract notion. It is something that can be practiced every day.

We all have daily contact with those with whom we have difficulty, with whom we have differences large and small.

It can be as small as conflict over a neighbor’s barking dog, or it can be something as great as differences over political or religious ideology.

In his classic book on the subject, “Faces of the Enemy,” author Sam Keen chronicles how we fundamentally dehumanize our enemies as a way to justify our hatred and desire for their destruction.

We have seen this at work in our nation’s struggle against terrorism. If our enemy is subhuman, all action to destroy them is certainly justified.

If, indeed, the growth of the spirit is growth in love, particularly for one’s enemies, then truly something challenging is at work. The work is to humanize, precisely when we might find it easier and self-gratifying to dehumanize. For this love to take hold, it is necessary for one’s life to be marked by a sense of humility.

To love those with whom I am at odds is only possible if I can suspend my own self-righteousness, my own self-importance. Does anyone really think this is easy?

In my relatively short time here on Bainbridge Island, I have to say that we can certainly use this understanding of the spiritual life and growth to take root in our community and our public life together.

I don’t see that there are necessarily more differences or disagreements than you would find in any healthy community. But the level of dehumanization of those who differ, the level of hostility, the level of self-righteousness that allows people to dismiss other people, appears to me to be epidemic and indicates to me that this island is definitely in need of a spiritual revival.

It is my hope that all people of faith and spirit might provide the leaven needed to change the tenor of public discourse on this island. We can only hope!

Carl Florea is an ordained Lutheran minister and member of Bethany Lutheran Church. Until recently he served as executive director of the island’s Housing Resources Board.

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