338: 10 Spiritual Sages to Watch in ’09 — for strength, hope and fresh ideas

ith so many challenges facing us in 2009, where do we turn?
    This list of “10 Spiritual Sages to Watch in 2009” is not exhaustive. Within the next couple of weeks, you’re going to be reading about more men and women, right here in the pages of ReadTheSpirit, who easily could be added to this list. You’ll also find stories of many spiritual heroes this month at http://www.InterfaithHeroes.info/
    But, for now, as we’re all gearing up for 2009, let’s take stock of these 10 important sages to keep watching — because their voices and their work will give you strength, hope and fresh ideas this year!
    We’re also eager to hear what you’re thinking. To join in daily conversation about emerging issues, visit Dr. Baker at http://www.OurValues.org/ — or send us a direct Email with your thoughts.


UPDATES: In early 2009, we’re acting on this list of recommendations. Now, you also can enjoy a new, in-depth Conversation With Barbara Brown Taylor, one of our Sages in this list.


    His new book, “Christ of the Celts,” is a landmark for the neo-Celtic movement. In a remarkably thin volume, Newell resurfaces Celtic views of Christ that were abandoned by mainline Christianity many centuries ago — but that hold great promise for the emerging strains of Christianity in this new millennium.
    I think we’re going to see this kind of “voice from a far country” beginning to knit together strains from such diverse movements as those headed by Matthew Fox and Brian McLaren. There’s also a powerful ecumenical — and even interfaith — openness in the Celtic view of Christianity that makes the work of Newell and other neo-Celtic writers feel like a bracing ocean breeze on American shores.
    In our Conversation With Philip in 2008, we quoted him saying, in part: “It is when we begin to remember who we are, and who all people
truly are, that we will begin to remember also what we should be doing
and how we should be relating to one another as individuals and as
nations and as an entire earth community.”

    I’m still hearing from readers about yesterday’s story from the PeaceXPeace network, so I can’t resist including these remarkable women in this list as an innovative community.
    Establishing a new Web hub, then building up a global network of writers is tough enough. But the PeaceXPeace network has assembled all these voices in a shared effort to find hope and peace in daily life — no matter where the writers live in the world. Some of the PeaceXPeace writers live under terribly challenging conditions.
    Their community is a remarkable accomplishment. (And here’s a preview of coming attractions: Keep watching the Interfaith Heroes page this month, because you’ll read more about this group before the month ends.)

    Speaking of interfaith heroes — people who risk bridging religious and cultural divisions to help heal our world — you should know by now that they’re not all Christian and they’re not all women.
    Today’s “Interfaith Hero” is a global activist who certainly is inspiring to watch this year: Rabbi David Rosen. He’s pictured here with his wife Sharon, at right in the photo, and Brenda Rosenberg, an American Jewish peace activist who wrote one of the comments that appears today with the profile of Rabbi Rosen.

    Some important spiritual sages aren’t particularly focused on cross-cultural work. For some sages, what they’re doing within their own religious tradition is so innovative, so prophetic — we all can learn from what’s unfolding.
    Way back in Passover 2008, we published a Conversation With The Adventure Rabbi Jamie Korngold. In public events and conversations with ReadTheSpirit readers through the balance of ’08, I heard countless men and women raising questions about this rabbi’s work.
    The roots of most of the world’s great faiths were not planted in foundations of granite and steel. Most religious origins involve the natural world. Rabbi Korngold is radically re-exploring those connections. Whatever your faith may be, keep an eye on her work and listen to her voice.


    These are dangerous times — and we need dangerous spiritual voices. That’s a pretty good description of the ancient prophets who rose up with daring spiritual critiques of conditions in the world.
    So, I use the word “dangerous” here with great respect.
    Rob Bell has established one of the largest new-style, inclusive, socially engaged Christian congregations in the U.S. and yet it’s obvious that he could just as easily walk away from his Mars Hill Church tomorrow if he felt the Spirit calling him. That allows him sometimes to say spiritually shocking things to people who really need to be jolted. Our latest Conversation With Rob was one of the most popular stories on our Web site in 2008.
    One step further out on the prophetic trail — and further into the meaning of spiritual community — is Shane Claiborne. You’ll read our Conversation With Shane later this month. Stay tuned.


    Hey, here’s a hard-to-swallow truth for many of us who have devoted our lives to organized religion: The truth is — we’re not all starting from inside a church, mosque, synagogue or temple, are we? And millions of men and women aren’t even drawn toward our houses of worship, period.
    The spiritual journey for millions of men and women begins with one huge, daily question: “Why should I climb out of bed for another stressful day?”
    Very important in 2009 will be men and women who can articulate that daily search for meaning — and sometimes, if we’re lucky, help us find a little hope and humor by the time we tumble into bed again, exhausted at the end of the day.
    In case you haven’t been watching, many of the beloved newspaper and magazine columnists who’ve done this for decades are losing their jobs or taking early retirement in the collapse of print media. They’re going, going — and many are gone already. We need a new generation of creative voices in this toughest of all spiritual challenges — envisioning a larger meaning in daily life.
    This “Spiritual Wanderer” is part of that new generation we need so desperately this year.


    Seeing the world. Truly seeing the world. That’s an enormous spiritual challenge right now.
    We think we’re holding the world in our palm 24-7 these days with our Web-enabled wireless gizmos, but here’s another hard truth: Our vision is fading. Not only are traditional news networks cutting back all around the world, but the tidal wave of media most of us consume is pretty much a hodge-podge of American popular culture.
    One group consistently working against that tidal wave is the Facets team. In 2008, we profiled their international children’s film festival, which is coming up again in 2009. Each month, Facets is one of a handful of media companies bringing important global films to American viewers.
    “Delbaran” is a great example. Produced in Iran in 2001 and recently brought to DVD for American viewers by Facets, “Delbaran” tells the story of a young boy trying to escape the ravages of war in Afghanistan by crossing the border into Iran. There, he finds himself living by his wits in a strange oasis — a coffee shop and truck stop at the Delbaran border crossing.
    The drama is shot in a documentary style that gives us a compelling feel for what life is like for so many of our neighbors living in that part of the world. I wound up watching portions of the film twice and its images of the rough-and-tumble challenges of refugee life will stick with me for a long time.


    I know. I know. We’re closing out this list of 10 with women and Christians. Can’t help it, though.
    These writers already have huge followings and they’re just about to step out onto the stage again. In February, Barbara Brown Taylor (right) brings us, “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.” Think of her book as an invitation from a good friend to take a long walk and catch up on all the hopeful glimpses of faith you’ve had among the many potholes in life’s journey. One line from the book: “What we have most in common is not religion but humanity.” Sounds simple, but it’s another way of articulating what I’ve been writing throughout this “10 to Watch” list.
    Then, in March, you won’t want to miss Diana Butler Bass’ “A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story.” Those of us who are lifelong readers of the prophetic historian Howard Zinn will recognize the echo in this title.
    We are planning to bring you Conversations With both of these writers in coming weeks.
    Stay tuned.

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