What binds us together as human beings on the earth? What are the core beliefs and values we share? And is it possible to render those beliefs in compelling language that leaves room for us to stand firm in our various faith-based and spiritually-inspired traditions and practices, but that also galvanizes us to take collective action for love and justice in the world?
In 2010 I participated in a four-day retreat with nineteen women religious leaders of many faiths and perspectives to begin to grapple with these questions. The following nine values are the direct fruit of our labors together.
As you read through them imagine this.
We were Jewish and Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Hindu. We were Anglo, Indian, African, Latina and Asian. We were twenty, thirty, forty; we were fifty, sixty and beyond. We invoked the ‘love of God,’ ‘the power of the Divine,’ ‘a spirit of Unknowing,’ and ‘the wonder of creation,’ as spiritual touch-points.
And long before we could even fathom the core beliefs that eventually emerged from our being together we told each other a story, each of us distilling a moment from her experience where a passion for justice was first kindled inside of her.
The story was the spark. The flame; these distillations. This moment; the time to fan them!
Human beings in all their diversity and multiplicity are naturally valuable and deserve, by mere virtue of the fact that they live and breathe to be treated with honor and respect and to receive equal protection and treatment within the public and private sphere.
The capacity to engage openly with one another as imperfect, sometimes broken but always beloved is a resource in social justice-based action and transformation. Our fragility and the capacity to be vulnerable binds human beings to one another and expands our ability to understand ourselves as interconnected and interdependent
We are our sister’s/ brother’s keeper, and together we are all care-takers for creation. Being in right relation with all life requires recognizing a covenantal obligation between individuals and the collective to create opportunities and systems that ensure the possibility for the full flourishing of all.
Everyone deserves to be at home in their bodies and free from violence, degradation and humiliation within their families, institutions and in the wider world. Both the actual attainment of this state and the struggle to achieve it are hallowed and holy activities.
Human beings are meant to have an open and broken heart for each other and for all life. This means the suffering of individuals, communities and indeed for the entire planet is not something we can turn our backs on. Rather we are obliged to move toward those who suffer and generate through our movement toward one another, ways to alleviate that suffering.
Our being is defined by difference even as we share a common need for love, justice, companionship and peace. We must go beyond tolerance – bare acceptance of one another – and embrace pluralism as an expansive and inclusive orientation that ignites our capacity to create systems and structures grounded in multiple expressions of human being in the world.
Human beings are meant to share the bounty of the earth with each other, and to create a sense of home and place for all. When we extend ourselves in hospitality toward one other we begin to embody a spirit of expansive generosity toward all life and strive to create systems and structures that support that spirit.
Our bodies are sacred spaces that contain the stories of all that is simultaneously beautiful and tragic within the human condition, and those stories are critical resources and reservoirs of knowledge for activism. When we value ourselves and others as embodied beings we actively create opportunities for individuals and communities to tell the stories of love and justice, of courage and struggle, of pain and possibility that define them.
Inherent creativity fuels the core of all being. That positively creative core is where our ability to sing, dance, play and dream the expansive dream of truly abundant and whole life resides.
Lisa Anderson is Director of Women’s Multifaith Programs at Auburn Seminary. Her work focuses on identifying the specific leadership needs and challenges women face. A trained theologian, Lisa holds Masters of Divinity and Masters of Philosophy degrees from Union Theological Seminary. Currently she is a Union Ph.D. candidate in systematic theology specializing in Christian doctrines and liberation theologies. Lisa has taught Black, Womanist and LGBT theologies, Christian ethics and liturgy, and she has designed and led seminars on the connection between faith and social justice. She is a regular ‘Our Inner Lives’ contributor at Feminist.com.