Book reviews, Ethics & Christian living

Spiritual resources for social activism

‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but where, oh where, are those who think of changing themselves? People may genuinely want to be good, but seldom are they prepared to do what it takes to produce the inward life of goodness that can form the soul.’ Richard Foster

Over the last few months, I have greatly valued using this book Common Prayer each day.

Treasure

It is a treasure-trove of resources to help people form a life-giving pattern of daily prayer. It is perfect for small groups, Christians who work or live together or for individual use.

As well as prayers for evening, midday and special occasions, it provides a daily format for each morning on a template of liturgical prayer, songs, Bible readings and space for your prayers.

I use the music streaming service Spotify to play the suggested song each day which are often associated with peace and racial justice movements.

Activists

Alongside this, what I really appreciate are the mini-biographies and quotes from Christian activists and mystics which are shared on dates and anniversaries relevant to their life and work.

These draw on a rich variety of sources; both ancient and modern, from those I am familiar with such as Martin Luther King, Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day, to those who I know little of, such as Cesar Chavez, Clarence Jordan and many saints and martyrs from church history.

This content challenges and inspires and also helps anchor prayers in the realities of the world.

‘Ordinary radicals’

Common Prayer is described on the cover as a ‘liturgy for ordinary radicals’. I am hesitant about using the word ‘radical’ because my life is mainly hallmarked by comfort and security rather than any form of radical risk-taking.

But its helpful to remember that the word radical derives from the Latin word ‘radix’ which means root. Being radical is about getting down to the root of matters: to question, to seek change at a fundamental level, both in yourself and in the world around us.

Personal and social

As the lives of the people quoted in this book illustrate, change at a fundamental level always brings together the personal and social. Personal convictions, both through the beliefs of those in leadership and in the swell of grassroots movements, is what fires social change.

And, despite the Church’s mixed legacy, the Christian faith has proved itself to be one of the key drivers for this synthesis between the personal and the social.

Faith in action

Faith has been the engine-room of movements to eradicate slavery, promote civil rights, cancel debt, form unions and reform working conditions. And faith has inspired the forming of countless organisations to combat poverty and homelessness and the engagement in broad-based organising.

At its best, faith-based activism integrates personal convictions in social action. This avoid the pitfalls of individualistic, narcissistic religious experience and the ‘soulless structuralism’ of much contemporary activism.

Loving God personally should mean loving our neighbours socially.

Conversion

Jim Wallis wrote this in his book The Soul of Politics:

‘‘The crisis of our times calls for our conversion.  Our structures, values, habits and assumptions are in need of basic transformation. 

Neither politics nor piety as we know them will effect such a change.  Rather a new spirituality is required, a spirituality rooted in old traditions but radically applied to our present circumstances’.

This is the radical spirituality the world needs. Structures and policies need to change. But so do our values, habits and assumptions. Both systems and our hearts need conversion.

If you read this blog regularly then I would strongly recommend buying a copy of Common Prayer. It will be money well-spent.

5 thoughts on “Spiritual resources for social activism”

  1. It has been interesting that because we cannot sing in church at the moment there has been a wider use of the Church of England liturgy resources that we can speak out loud together.

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