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Occupy Spirituality: a book review by Jim Burklo

A Book Review by Jim Burklo

occupy spirituality book coverOccupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation
By Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox (2013)

Young interspiritual guru and homelessness activist Adam Bucko and old radical theologian and rave-mass priest Matthew Fox engage in a rambling dialogue inspired by the soulful ideals of the Occupy movement in this book. Most fascinating to me, an old radical pastor, is the emerging global spiritual landscape described by Adam, whose “souljourn” has taken him around the world – from his native Polish Catholicism shaped by the Solidarity resistance to Communism, to busking in the subway stops of New York City, to ministering to the sick and addicted in India, to co-founding a spiritually-centered outreach to homeless youth in New York. In his short life he’s experienced spiritual practices and disciplines from the old traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, different branches of Christianity, and Sufi Islam, as well as new “home-grown” ones emerging around the world today.

Adam Bucko and millions like him are fulfilling a prognostication of Walt Whitman quoted in the book. Long ago he said: “There will soon be no more priests…. The gangs of kosmos and prophets en masse shall take their place. A new order shall rise and they shall be the priests of man, and every man shall be his own priest.” Matthew Fox was defrocked as a Catholic priest for acting as if Whitman’s vision should come true. But Fox, now an Episcopal priest, has a much stronger personal and institutional bond to traditional Christianity than does Bucko. The consequences of this difference are evident in the book, which both celebrates religious tradition as well as liberation from its confining doctrines and structures. The book is at least as much about “occupying” religion in order to break it open as it is about “occupying” Wall Street in order to reveal alternatives to its assumptions.

The book stirred my blood. It inspired me to work harder to change history, not just lament current repetitions of old, bad patterns.

Times have changed, and traditional religious institutions are generally ten steps behind. But the church to which I belong is breaking out of the old model of congregational life. We are doing “Occupy Spirituality” by de-occupying our old, creaky building that ate up too much of our time and money and energy. We sold it! Mt Hollywood Congregational UCC really is experiencing a new life – we all feel lighter, freer, and more focused on what really matters: being a community of service, mutual support, and progressive spiritual awakening. We’ve gone from big pulpit to no pulpit. Our new minister, Anne Cohen, preaches in her bare feet. The theme of her preaching: simplicity of spirit and lifestyle. We rent an intimate, beautifully-remodeled space in a church building that’s in the same neighborhood we’ve occupied for 100 years.

But we’re radicals. Most churches can’t bring themselves to restructure in such a dramatic fashion. Indeed, our church lost some members who could not make the transition. We’re a bit smaller in size but a lot bigger in spirit!

Resistance to change in old institutions means that many of them will die. And then, over time, new faith institutions will emerge. It’s happening now, and this book is a window into the process.

Adam Bucko de-occupied the Catholicism of his upbringing, in order to occupy a new “interspiritual” space where any one soul-centered community celebrates the others, and eagerly seeks to learn from them. This book vividly describes the emerging spiritual communities and movements he and Matt Fox have created or encountered.

My prediction is different than Whitman’s. I think he was prescient about demise of the religious institutional structures of his time, and the emergence of a spirituality of and from the people. But people being people, it is inevitable that they will create new religious or spiritual institutions upon – or away from – the ashes of the old ones. There’s no reason these new organizations can’t continue to embody the “Occupy” ethic of being “leaderful” and maintaining a culture of 100% participation. People are likely to have a more fluid relationship to these institutions, moving from one to another through their lifetimes of growth and change.

We are entering an era not of the collapse of religion altogether, but of the collapse of some big, old religious organizations and the emergence of amazing new ones. Matthew Fox will continue to be a wise elder advisor, urging on this process. (I aspire to the same role!) Adam Bucko is a recovering anarchist. I predict he will move from an “Occupy” tent to a more enduring edifice of spiritual community. And the world will be better for it.

Visit the Patheos Book Club for more conversation on Occupy Spirituality, including a video interview with Matthew Fox.

Website: JIMBURKLO.COM Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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