New Realities Shaping 21st Century Spirituality


OMSC students 2009

OMSC students 2009

I am currently in New Haven Connecticut teaching  a course on spiritual renewal at the Overseas Ministries Study Center.  This is one of the most stimulating courses that I am involved in.  I always feel that I am spiritually renewed by the students rather than providing them with spiritual renewal.   There are several reasons for this.

First the students come from all over the world – India, Myanmar, Korea, China, Philippines, Uganda, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Japan.  Many of them work in very challenging ministry situations in which they face challenges of injustice, oppression and deprivation that most of us will never experience.  In the midst of this their zeal for the gospel is incredible.  The challenges of their lives have taught them to rely on God in ways that those of us who live in comfortable circumstances will never know.  Their stories challenge and strengthen my faith in many ways.

As well as that I am constantly learning from the perspectives of my colleague Stanley Green, head of Mennonite Mission Network who co teaches this course with me.  Because of his rich international experience Stanley shares perspectives on spirituality and the challenges we face both now and in the future that I rarely hear addressed in conferences or books on spirituality here in the US.  

Yesterday Stanley talked about the new realities that are shaping spirituality in the 21st century, realities that are present in all our communities but which we often ignore in our spiritual practices and interactions with others.   

  1. the challenges of urbanization, 
  2. the need for reconciliation in a society and a world that manifests ongoing and escalating violence and conflict
  3. the challenge of immigration and migration that requires us to embrace pilgrim identities and respond to the encounter of Christ in others who are very different from ourselves.
  4. the growing struggle for many people to express Christ in their own ethnic context.   

I found myself struggling with new questions in the midst of this.  What shape should spirituality take in our highly mobile and ethnically diverse world?  How do we develop appropriate spirituality that acknowledges our mobility, impermanence, vulnerability, strangeness and cultural nomadism yet still live incarnationally in all contexts?  How do we maintain the flexibility on our own spiritual lives to constantly be open to learn and change yet at the same time be anchored in ways that provide stability and strength in our relationship to God?

Part of what I realized is that spiritual renewal in our current world might mean a total change of perspective.  As Stanley pointed out this means recognizing that every person is made in the image of God and is gifted to enrich our lives.  It means looking for the presence of God and listening to the voice of God in others rather than thinking we are called to be the presence and voice of God.

I was particularly challenged by this quote from Anthony Gittins

for if we go in the name of the Lord, yet hope to find God in the lives of others rather than pressure to bring God to godless people and places we must, like Jesus become all things to all people and that for me means our appropriating and developing a variety of ways of being in the world and with God – in short a variety of appropriate spiritualities to sustain us.  

   As I listened to this presentation I was challenged again by my need to be constantly open to listen and learn recognizing that God is always at work creating new expressions of faith and worship.  Every encounter with another person is an encounter with someone who thinks differently about God and faith – even those who look the same as we do and attend the same church that we do don’t see God in exactly the same way that we do.  And that means that all of us need to be aware of these new realities and of the fact that they are shaping spirituality for all of us – whether we live and work in an obviously cross cultural community or not.  

What do you think?  How are the new realities of our richly multicultural world shaping your spirituality?  What practices provide you with flexibility to change and grow as you interact with others who think very differently from you?  What practices provide stability and strength in the midst of these constantly changing realities?   


Wherever the gospel encounters culture there are three things that happen


3 Responses

  1. Hi , I think this film encompasses the spiritual message discussed here.
    This a film about transcendence. It discusses the plight of humanity and Earth. I think you guys might like it.

  2. […] I am grateful for the many opportunities that I have had over the last month.  The Spirituality of Gardening seminar was a great success and will be repeated May 30th.  Read the report here.  The garden manual Gardening with God is now available for download and I am delighted at some of the enthusiastic responses we have had to this resource.  I have also just returned from a very enriching week at OMSC in New Haven Connecticut where I was teaching a course on spiritual renewal.  Students came from India, China, Indonesia, Korea, Uganda, Madagascar, Myanmar, Nigeria, Philippines, and Japan.  Read the report here […]

  3. […] week I wrote a post on New Realities Shaping Spirituality in the 21st Century.  Since then I have been thinking a lot about the forces that shape spirituality for all of us in […]

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