Grounded: Finding God in the World--A Spiritual Revolution
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Publication Date: 2017
The headlines are clear: religion is on the decline in America as many people leave behind traditional religious practices. Diana Butler Bass, leading commentator on religion, politics, and culture, follows up her acclaimed book Christianity After Religion by arguing that what appears to be a decline actually signals a major transformation in how people understand and experience God. The distant God of conventional religion has given way to a more intimate sense of the sacred that is with us in the world. This shift, from a vertical understanding of God to a God found on the horizons of nature and human community, is at the heart of a spiritual revolution that surrounds us and that is challenging not only religious institutions but political and social ones as well.
Grounded explores this cultural turn as Bass unpacks how people are finding new spiritual ground by discovering and embracing God everywhere in the world around us in the soil, the water, the sky, in our homes and neighborhoods, and in the global commons. Faith is no longer a matter of mountaintop experience or institutional practice; instead, people are connecting with God through the environment in which we live. Grounded guides readers through our contemporary spiritual habitat as it points out and pays attention to the ways in which people experience a God who animates creation and community.
Bass brings her understanding of the latest research and studies and her deep knowledge of history and theology to Grounded. She cites news, trends, data, and pop culture, weaves in spiritual texts and ancient traditions, and pulls it all together through stories of her own and others' spiritual journeys. Grounded observes and reports a radical change in the way many people understand God and how they practice faith. In doing so, Bass invites readers to join this emerging spiritual revolution, find a revitalized expression of faith, and change the world."
Diana Butler Bass is the author of eight books on American religion, including Christianity After Religion, Christianity for the Rest of Us, and A People's History of Christianity. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Duke University, has taught at the college and graduate level, and is currently an independent scholar. She was a columnist for the New York Times Syndicate, and blogs for the Huffington Post and the Washington Post on issues of religion, spirituality, and culture. Bass is a popular speaker at conferences, colleges and universities, and churches across North America. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband, daughter, and dog. Her website is dianabutlerbass.com and she can be followed on Twitter at @dianabutlerbass.
“I’ve been grateful for Bass’s sharp mind, but upon finishing Grounded, I found myself in love with her mystical heart and gorgeous storytelling. We need to believe that God is with us, in dirt and water and suffering and homes and neighborhoods. God is definitely in this book.”
“In this lyrical, mystical, and spiritual book, … Bass has made an important contribution by beautifully explaining a broader and more inclusive understanding of God that can be embraced by the spiritually independents (”spiritual but not religious”) and also by those rooted in one of the world’s religions. ”
“‘There is nothing worse than sleeping through a revolution,’ Bass says. Her new book will not only help you wake up. It will equip you to be an enthusiastic participant in what I believe is the deepest and most important movement taking shape in our lifetime.”
“The reversing of engines that Diana Butler Bass describes in Grounded was first announced by Jesus himself, of course. How strange that it should seem so new and even revolutionary 2,000 years later.”
“Diana Butler Bass’s thoughtful mandate amounts not so much to a dismissal of the church, but a summons to renewal that can be both faithful and contemporary. Her accent champions a connectedness to the actual context in which we live.”
“Americans’ search for the divine is alive and well, although it looks different than it has in the past. In Grounded, Bass investigates the spiritual lives of contemporary believers, questioning what happens when people expand their search for God beyond church buildings to the world around them.”
“With one part mysticism, one part theology, and one part ecology, each chapter takes us from a theologically sound understanding of the sacred nature of the natural world to a mystical understanding of tending that world, then to sections on real crises in our world, ecologically and economically.”
“Bass digs her fingers into the soil of our surroundings to unearth a new way of looking at spirituality and our place within our increasingly global neighborhood. A deeply theological book, but also a practical one; causes one to ponder the spiritual implications of farmers’ markets in altogether new ways.”
“Beginning with earth (dirt), air (sky) and water Bass weaves an engaging story of interconnectedness ending in the revelation of the divine in the here and now. I thoroughly enjoyed the texture and twists of insights opening the stunning truth of emerging faith in our midst.”
“Bass blends anecdotes from her own experience with incisive social commentary and interviews with people committed to making a difference in their communities. … A thoughtful examination of the current trend toward social engagement and practical spirituality.”
“Although her ideas are revolutionary, the book is well grounded. Spiritual directors and other contemplatives will find themselves at home in Bass’s descriptions of experiencing the presence of God in everyday encounters in the world as well as the unexpectedly numinous in nature or sacred places.”
“Provocative and well-researched, Grounded is an admirable contribution to the understanding of contemporary American Christianity, which is in constant needs of reformation. May the church listen.”
“A profound and literary book.”
“Bass’ credentials... frequently help bridge the gap between those who practice Christianity and those who research it. ‘What makes her an unusual voice among commentators in American religion right now is that she’s a proponent of hopeful religion.’… Grounded champions a return to nature and an embrace of hospitality.”
“In her excellent treatise, [Bass] declares the current state of religion as not dying but transforming…. Bass’s biblical and effusive style, always mixing the personal with the political and scriptural, finds a deeper, more profound register in this latest book.”
“Grounded is a wise and beautiful book. It is, in fact and in places, almost an anthem to the sacred unity of the physical and the spiritual in the formation of human faith and in the maturation of the human soul.”
“In Grounded, Diana Butler Bass brings theology back down to earth. She writes about the environment and about the church in a way that makes sense, feels authentic, and doesn’t put you to sleep. A stunning book that will open up new conversations in the church and beyond.”
“I absolutely love this book. I’ve long respected Diana Butler Bass for her intelligent, academic approach to the religious conversation, and never more so than in the pages of this book. Grounded made me love this beautiful world more deeply, and made God’s presence more visible everywhere I looked.”
“An absolutely gorgeously written book about real faith in the real world.”
SkotiadGender: male2 Stars Out Of 5Cafeteria Christianity, or Eco-Emotion ReligionApril 13, 2016SkotiadGender: maleQuality: 2Value: 2Meets Expectations: 2Kudos to the editor and/or proofreaders of this book. They did an excellent job, as I found only one spelling error, and the typical book today has so many errors that one wonders if they were edited at all. Thumbs up to spelling correctly.
Carl Sagan, an agnostic who hated Christianity with a passion, claimed that Christians should dump their theology of sin and salvation and focus on earth spirituality. He would be happy to see that many people who identify as Christians are doing just that, since they no longer believe in the God of the Bible. This book, Grounded, is about earth spirituality also water spirituality, sky spirituality, and community. In his book Brocas Brain, Sagan wrote, Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky. The author of Grounded repeats that thought many times, in fact. Problem is, she never identifies who those people are that think of God as a man with a white beard on a throne in heaven. Her book is a pleasure to read just to watch these sorts of groundless assertions many people think that with nothing to back them up a pretty ironic situation for a book titled Grounded. Lets look at some of these.
Not so long ago, believers confidently asserted that God inhabited heaven, a distant place of eternal reward for the faithful. We occupied a three-tiered universe (p 4). This is repeated numerous times, yet she never cites any evidence, nothing from the Bible or any Christian book or sermon. In fact, she has simply repeated a truism that agnostics like Carl Sagan repeat and it isnt true. Michelangelos famous image of the bearded God is a rarity in Christian art, because God is very seldom depicted (following the Ten Commandments).
Some stubbornly maintain that a distant God sits on his heavenly throne watching all these things, acting as either a divine puppet master or a stern judge of human affairs (p 8). Who are the some who say this? No Christian has ever described God as a divine puppet master, that is the antithesis of Christian teaching. Divine puppet master is another talking point from the atheist side.
Much attention is paid to the growth of fundamentalist religions, especially in the Global South and developing world. But, in some ways, theories of decline and growth are not really the point (p 9). Here is the contempt for conservative Christianity, which pops up often in the book. Of course the author says that decline and growth are not really the point her own denomination, the Episcopalians, are in swift decline, so (like the Episcopalians own presiding bishop a few months ago said) numbers dont really matter nothing to worry about. The progressives harbor some very thinly veiled racism the growth in Christianity is taking place in Africa and Latin America the vigor is among dark-skinned people, while the lily-white Episcopalians dwindle away.
Whether conservative or liberal, most American churches teach some form of the idea that God exists in holy isolation, untouched by the messiness of creation (p 12). No citations (again). This is not even remotely true. No Christian believes that God is in holy isolation. (That was, however, a belief of the Deists.) Most evangelicals focus on the personal relationship with God that is the antithesis of a God in holy isolation.
My soul has a mile-wide mystical streak (p 12). Whether that is a good thing is left for the reader to decide. By the end of the book, the overall impression is Whatever I like doing, thats God. A changed conception of God, a rebirthing of faith from the ground up (p 16). The author never bothers to explain whether this conception of God has any connection to reality at all. Progressives fancy that when their conception of God changes, God changes with it.
[Critiques of cafeteria religion] too often smack of intellectual superiority and moral defensiveness, carrying a whiff of judgment if not outright insult (p 22). This is her pre-emptive strike, since the entire book is indeed a hymn to cafeteria religion. Her derisive reference to the critics of cafeteria religion is ironic coming from someone whose contempt for conservative Christianity pervades all of her books.
This revolution rests upon a simple insight: God is the ground, the grounding, that which grounds us (p 26). How do we know this insight is real? The fact that some people like it proves nothing.
A few hundred years ago, our ancestors decreed that the earth and all therein were resources to be used for profit (p 35). WHEN was this did our ancestors decree (how was that decree issued?) that everything was to be used for profit? No examples, not one. This is a classic straw man argument I care about the earth, but those nasty old conservatives, all they care about is profit.
An atheist friend of mine is fond of saying, I just dont believe that God is an old man sitting on the throne in heaven (p 52). Actually, Christians do not believe that, either, but apparently this author who claims to be Christian thinks that atheists know exactly what Christians believe. Interesting that the author relies on atheists and agnostics to tell her what conservative Christians think, when there are millions of actual conservative Christians in America who would gladly correct her stereotypes.
If unclean and being soiled become the dominant metaphors for sin, it is just a small step to the demonization of real dirt (p 57). For petes sake, who demonizes dirt? Im guessing the author bathes regularly just like most people. Is that a sign that she demonizes dirt?
The worlds waterways call us to practice social justice (p 91). Is there anything in the progressives worldview that does not call them to practice social justice?
With oil, coal, and gas as our bricks, humanity has built a carbon tower of Babel, now poised to crash down (p 115). Im guessing the author drives a car and flies on jets just like other bashers of fossil fuel. The tower of Babel in Genesis never did crash, so her choice of metaphors is odd. Babel symbolized human pride, there is no pride involved in people just wanting sources of fuel for their homes and cars. Thats called living.
John 3:16 is not a call to personal salvation or revivalist fervor. Instead, it offers a glimpse of Christianitys central cosmology . . . the verse essentially says God so loved the universe, that God entered into the cosmos in the form of a gift, the gift of Jesus, that we might trust in this divine presence and experience abundance (p 122). So, weve been getting John 3:16 wrong for 2000 years? Nice of her to clear that up.
In the 1970s, the patriarchal family, which had already been stretched and strained in many directions, gave way to a new vision: that of the family of mutual exchange, created around the values of shared love, empathetic participation, and freely accepted obligations. This was the contemporary family, built upon affection (p 173). Oh, please. Families were not loving and empathetic before the 1970s. Oh, and that little matter of freely accepted obligations that worked out in something called huge increase in divorces. People who freely accepted their obligations discovered they didnt have to have any obligations at all. Divorce, shacking up, kids bounced from one home to another, frequently raised by a single mom with various boyfriends in and out. Sorry, but her glowing description of the new and improved family is propaganda, not reality.
All of the worlds religions make neighbors the central concern of spirituality and ethics (p 197). Has she ever read the Quran? It most specifically excludes infidels from the circle of love in fact, the terrorists are simply reading the Quran as it was intended meaning, kill the infidel whenever possible, and in times of peace, do not become friends with them. If there is any love of neighbor command in Islam, it most emphatically does not require compassion to infidels. In a book with so many slurs against fundamentalists, she says no harsh words against jihadis. Muhammad also warned that if one wanted eternal salvation, Let him not harm or annoy his neighbor (p 209). This is found in the section where all major religions supposedly have some form of the Golden Rule. She conveniently overlooks the Qurans commands to destroy infidels, who are most definitely not considered neighbors.
My walks became a spiritual practice (p 223). It appears that whenever she is thinking, something spiritual is taking place.
Page 224, she claims that at a local farmers market, she buys lamb from a Mennonite, who buys his herbs from a Muslim. Mennonite and Muslim interfaith cooperation at the farmers market. The world, I thought, could learn a lot right here. . . . This was an experience far different from shopping at the chain grocery store (p 224). Did it occur to her that the employees of the chain grocery store were also a diverse group of human beings? I know now where my food comes from and how rainfall and sunlight and temperature have an impact on the crops (p 224). She had to hang around a farmers market to learn that the weather affects agriculture? The contrast with the farmers market could not be more obvious: it is a community, and a lively spiritual one at that (p 225). Engaging in a sale with a person of a different ethnicity makes one spiritual? Further, the farmers market is a model of reciprocity, of mutual exchange. So is a supermarketthats what buying and selling are all about, reciprocity and mutual exchange. The market has become a spiritual practice for me. . . . More and more congregations have begun to host farmers markets, trying to make overt the relationship between food, neighborhood, hospitality, and spirituality (p 226). So, locally grown food is more spiritual than food from far away, which would mean that if you buy pineapple or papaya, you are not having much of a spiritual experience. The market is also connected to larger issues of poverty and social justice (p 226). Of course it is. Anything that interests progressives, no matter how mundane, is always connected to larger issues.
In the last two centuries, religion has allowed itself to become privatized (p 237). Actually, nothing is more private than the spiritual but not religious religion that she lauds. Religion has been reduced to me (p 237). Actually the various mystical and spiritual experiences she recounts throughout the book are totally me-centered, her own little private I feel so spiritual right now moments, as on p 238: Spirituality is about personal experiencethe deep realization that dirt is good, water is holy, the sky holds wonder.
Although I have written about this from a largely Christian perspective, it is not distinctly Christian (p 271). In fact, she quotes non-Christian sources more often than she quotes the Bible, and when she does quote the Bible, she spins the verses in her own way.
[At a church picnic:] People practiced hospitality as if they were welcoming you into their own home. Everyone was talking to everyone else, greeting friends and strangers alike (p 283). This happens constantly at all churches. She chooses to believe that the pleasant atmosphere was due to the minister preaching a sermon telling people that other religions were good.
I converted to the world, the dwelling place of the divine (p 278). A rare bit of honesty, worldly and proud of it. Its worth noting that throughout the book, she makes it clear she does not believe in an afterlife. Feel your feet on the ground, take a walk or hike, plant a garden, clean up a watershed, act on behalf of the earth, find your roots (p 284). In other words, get on with your life and call it spiritual and all is well. If you think you are spiritual, you are.
So, here is an author who attends an Episcopal church, does not believe in an afterlife, does not believe the core Christian beliefs about sin and salvation, finds Christian fundamentalists contemptible but is certain that Muslims are just one more adorable religion about neighbor love. (Stay tuned for updates on the religion of peace.) You dont need religion (so why does she attend church?), God is everywhere, you can find God by growing tomatoes or by taking a walk. Her God does not send people to heaven nor hell, nor does he/it seem to have any moral component at all. You just sense God at all times, but especially when youre mingling with people of different skin pigmentations or religions. This God cant punish you if you dont pursue social justice or reward you if you do, so if you buy your groceries at Walmart instead of the farmers market, you wont get punished (but you wont feel nearly as spiritual). So this God really is not a Person, God is your own pleasant feelings. This cafeteria religion only has one item on the menu: ME.
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