Living in a Seismic Age
Bridging the Chasm of the Heart
by Michael Reid Trice
Our age is the story of seismic shifts in the guiding, normative ways for how life is lived on this planet. We experience these shifts as seismic because they pulsate and tear at the foundations of industry, economic stability, and national boundaries as we know them, at the veracity of moral barometers and religious truth-telling, and even disruptions to the natural world. Under normal conditions, societal transitions are managed within largely accepted social constraints. But raucous seismic shifts in everyday life invite the disruptive torque of societal revolutions, in a similar way that the energy of earthquakes spills over into tsunamis. Today, many are indeed being shaken at the moorings of their identity that bridge daily, calculable existence.
Bridges are essential to the passage of both people and ideas. History tells us that in times of war, bridges are either occupied or vanquished by the adversary, their tinder remains sinking to the bottoms of rivers. A generation after war is over, when young feet no longer remember the curve of old planks, what we miss is not the old bridge, but the idea of it. A seismic age like ours is often marked by nostalgia for the bridges we stopped using years ago, even as the comfort of their form still holds the public imagination.
The Role of Religion
Religion is often one of those weighty constants for people, like an old bridge whose singular comfort is in its being. Sooner or later, the dreamlike memory of how religion bridged life yesterday will not suffice for meeting the existential yearnings of humanity today. The quest for deeper meaning at the heart of every religion, and the challenges we are facing in the world, require something more from all of us. In a seismic age, we will have to descend into that open rift, into the world of fracture and truths, and place our hands upon this new terrain for ourselves.
This call for going deeper is not identical with the call for increased interfaith dialogue in local communities and universities. Even as these are essential to learning, they fail if we believe that simply learning about one another will resolve the irrational capacities of bias and discrimination toward one another. Most of us are aware of the carbon our vehicles spew into the atmosphere, but this doesn’t stop us from driving our cars. I have worked for over twenty years in both national and international contexts of religious dialogue, so my comments are intended in the scope of a profession to which I am committed. Some of our most insightful leaders from St. Augustine to Karen Armstrong know about the guiding impulse in our humanity that we recognize in ourselves, and to which every religion attests. It goes like this: We have a hard time liberating ourselves from the impenetrable crust of our own egos. As a prominent and insightful Zen Buddhist I know told me about the first ten years of his own spiritual journey – “Arrogance followed me everywhere.”
In order to face the challenges of our unfolding future on this planet, we need a conversion of the heart. We need a deeper consensus on the values that every founding religious parent aimed to reveal about what awaited us in illumination, enlightenment, emancipation, and epiphany. And we must follow new pathways that distance us from the heraldry of the ego-Self and all it has wrought upon the world.
Take a moment and consider what a seismic age like our own in fact does to society. In our lesser angels undiagnosed fear produces a rise in hate speech and incitement to violence; anxiety is enshrined in protectionist ideologies that buttress national populism; general xenophobia contends anew as racist truths in a post-rational world, and cruel leaders produce chaotic whirlwinds that corrode the moral barometer of a republic.
And yet, our better angels enable us to produce social movements of mass humanity that seek emancipation following decades of stagnation; to begin the painstaking work of international wakefulness around a changing climate; to provide sanctuary by loving and doing unto others for their sake and not our own; and to seek after the mystery of our spiritual substance that confounds the idea of the human life as reducible to mortal coils alone.
Religious leaders today, if they care about a conversion of the heart, must first crawl down into the rupture the current seismic age produced in all of us. The luminaries of human life have long told us of our need to understand and overcome the chasms within ourselves in order to build bridges that enable a new crossing. But this time we must respond in earnest, and quickly. To lead a moral societal transformation, we have to abandon personal narcissism for the more arduous tasks ahead. Risk yourself by becoming a bridgebuilder for our current age.
Building a New Bridge Named Religica
In the spring of 2018 a group of educators, journalists, web designers, and generation X, Y, and Z participants, spent significant time together crawling down the rupture created by our seismic age. What we found on our arrival there framed a plan for a new venture called Religica.
We decided upon a post-cynical approach to the impulses within religious and spiritual traditions. We are aiming at the existential hunger-points that all of us witness within our world. We recognize that creating large networks of cooperative partnerships is necessary but not sufficient, having placed perhaps too high a premium on quantitative cooperation at the expense of qualitative depth. We are not waiting to reclaim yesterday’s bridges but are committed to constructing new ones. And we are absolutely certain that you, me, all of us, are the only ones here on this thin crest of our present humanity capable of building these structures together. We are the bridge-builders that the future is hoping for.
In constructing bridges today, Religica is convinced of the virtues of the digital age as a place where beliefs show up in an ecology of formative values we often refer to as the human story, long before they do in the hard edges of established doctrines. Ruminate on the stories of your grandmother or great aunt, or your closest icons of memory, those who return to you in the passing of another year. They offered you the gifts of their values and their spiritual witness to trust, mystery, and connection. We are surrounded by stories in the digital age, but how we open those stories to everyone is part of our current challenge and task.
Within this ecology of beliefs, concise messages that amplify the human voice and community stories become increasingly relevant and charged with inspiration. We know that the age of tenured owls on university perches is irrelevant if not also listening intently to the immediacy of the human experience that technology has made accessible in the egalitarian magic of, say,a podcast. In this realm, it is not the lofty intellectual professor but the clever and empathetic interviewer who will invite the voice of wisdom from the alchemy of everyday life.
Institutions are still essential for cooperative purposes. With a diversity that stretches from the Tzu Chi Foundation to Church World Service to the Parliament of the World’s Religions and so many more, we need connection and cooperation. Together we can craft a vibrant apologia for spirituality’s contribution to goodness in the world.
During our journey into the rupture, what we found in constructing Religica were not the broken spines of yesterday’s crossings, but rather a view of the horizon that is opening before all of us, and that waits for us, if together we bring it into the world.
Religica goes live on January 1st, 2019.
Header Photo: Wikimedia