[While] European mystics and contemplatives often lived in community, they tended to focus on the individual experience of encountering the divine presence. African American contemplatives turned the “inward journey” into a communal experience. . . . The word contemplation includes but does not require silence or solitude. Instead, contemplative practices can be identified in public prayers, meditative dance movements, and musical cues that move the entire congregation toward a communal listening and entry into communion with a living God. . . .
.. This is how Howard Thurman describes the embodied locus of contemplation:
There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea is an island and on that island there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the “angel with the flaming sword.” Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority. Nothing passes . . . unless it be a part of the “fluid area of your consent.” This is your crucial link with the Eternal. 
. . As I see it, the human task is threefold.
- First, the human spirit must connect to the Eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning.
- Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity, facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace.
- Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts.
Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. These tasks require a knowledge of self and others that only comes from the centering down that Thurman advocates. It is not an escape from the din of daily life; rather, it requires full entry into the fray but on different terms. . . . Always, contemplation requires attentiveness to the Spirit of God. .
It’s not that the Amish view technology as inherently evil. No rules prohibit them from using new inventions. But they carefully consider how each one will change their culture before embracing it. And the best clue as to what will happen comes from watching their neighbors.
“The Amish use us as an experiment,” says Jameson Wetmore, an engineer turned social researcher at the Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “They watch what happens when we adopt new technology, and then they decide whether that’s something they want to adopt themselves.”
.. The motto of the 1933 World Fair in Chicago was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms.”
It was really a very prevalent idea that technology was going to save us all. Basically, we needed to worship it if we were going to have any chance of survival. This was just out of the Great Depression. There were a lot of really destitute people. Governments and companies were saying that technology can lead us out of this. It may not always be comfortable, but we have to ride it out.
.. That is the clear push coming into the 1930s and into the 1940s and 1950s. Household technologies are all the rage. When you hit the 1960s and 1970s, there is this shift. I think the hallmarks of that shift are the dropping of the atomic bomb, and then of course you have Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, and you also have Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
.. It’s interesting that the Amish have different districts, and each district has different rules about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. Yet it’s very clear there are two technologies that, as soon as the community accepts them, they are no longer Amish. Those technologies are the television and the automobile.
.. The reason the Amish rejected television is because it is a one-way conduit to bring another society into their living rooms. And they want to maintain the society as they have created it. And the automobile as well. As soon as you have a car, your ability to leave your local community becomes significantly easier.
.. You no longer have to rely on your neighbor for eggs when you run out.
.. Think about the origins of Facebook. This was not a value-free technology. The goal was to connect people.
.. A big part of the sexual revolution was just the fact that young people could escape their parents with a car in ways they never could before.
.. I asked one Amish person why they didn’t use automobiles. He simply smiled and turned to me and said, “Look what they did to your society.” And I asked what do you mean? “Well, do you know your neighbor? Do you know the names of your neighbors?”
.. For the Amish, there are no rules prohibiting new technologies. So typically what will happen is one member of the community will say, “You know, I’m fed up with axes. I’m using the chainsaw.”
So maybe he goes out and begins to use a chainsaw. You might get some stern looks from neighbors, but officially it’s not prohibited. Every six months, the [Amish district councils] sit down and discuss. People are beginning to use chainsaws in our communities: Is this what we want? And then they have a conversation about it.
.. But the Amish said the Sabbath was something they would not change. They would not compromise their day of rest. They worked with local milk wholesalers and arranged to have their milk picked up early Saturday and Saturday night, so they would have Sunday free.
.. One thing it’s taken me awhile to understand is that I don’t think the Amish believe in progress. I don’t think the Amish believe there is a perfect world in the future.
.. It’s pretty crazy if you stop to think about it to realize that car travel is so important to us, that were willing to sacrifice 30,000 to 40,000 lives a year for it.
.. All things being equal, it’s hard to say decreasing infant mortality and radically increasing the life expectancy of people isn’t in some ways good.
I think if you’re like the Amish, it’s not a goal you are going to be working for. You’ll be satisfied with much lower life expectancies.
.. In the 1930s, we ended up as a society deciding that four-year-olds should be the one to blame. We began to train people even before they began to speak about how to cross the street and how to avoid it in the street. We redesigned our world to be safe
.. When sociologists were really diving into the Amish culture in the 1960s and 1970s, 75% of Amish children would decide to become Amish adults. The most recent statistics show that 95% are now choosing to join the Amish Church.
The former Archbishop reviews The Political Samaritan: How Power Hijacked a Parable by Nick Spencer.
But, as most regular readers of the Bible are aware, relations between Jews and Samaritans at the time when the story of the Good Samaritan was first told were as poisonous as those between Serbs and Bosnians in the 1990s.
Any story with a Samaritan as a positive character would have been offensive; this one is made still more so by its very structure.
.. the natural expectation would be that the hero of the story would be an ordinary Israelite, a salt-of-the-earth person just like the average listener to the story. Instead of which it turns out to be a racially and religiously obnoxious figure.
.. one of the many points of the tale is not that “we” should be kind to “them”, but that we, the insiders, the elect, the normal, should be ready to recognise that we are likely to have to depend in important ways on the apparently alien and threatening stranger... It’s about ethnic prejudice; or religious conflict; or the conflict between law-keeping and spontaneous ethical behaviour; or about the transcending of Israel’s historic significance as uniquely the people of God; or the need for ethical creativity; or the imperative to stop asking who is the neighbour to whom you have a duty and start behaving as a neighbour to anyone and everyone you encounter... what Jesus’s story does is to refuse to offer any simple criteria for generalising about where love stops (just as elsewhere he refuses to offer criteria for when it’s all right to stop trying to forgive or to be reconciled)... the religious professionals in the story would have had sound reasons for avoiding not only practical risks but also ceremonial pollution if the injured man had proved to be dead.. to recognise that we are repeatedly humbled by learning what love looks like from profoundly unlikely sources... as the context of the parable becomes less well known, it is co-opted in various ways that make it just a bit banal. Calling someone a Good Samaritan becomes, says Spencer, “a pithier way of saying “people who make significant efforts to help those they don’t know”... unforgettably – by Margaret Thatcher addressing the Church of Scotland on the importance of the wealth creation that enabled the Samaritan to have resources to help the less fortunate... what looks like an easily available trope is actually a good deal more dangerous, liable to turn from a useful stick with which to beat your rhetorical enemies into a splinter that sticks in your own flesh; very much the way in which Jesus’s parables regularly work... civic coherence and ethical clarity in a culture, even a publicly agnostic culture, continue to draw on the language and (in the broad sense) myth of older identities, and on the experience of communities for whom these words and narratives are still alive.
The purifying goal of mysticism and contemplative prayer is nothing less than divine union—union with what is, with the moment, with yourself, with the divine, which means with everything. Healing, growth, and happiness are admittedly wonderful byproducts of prayer, but they must not be our primary concern. The goal must be kept simple and clear—love of God and neighbor, union with God and neighbor. Our common word for this state of union is heaven. Wherever there is union, there is a little bit of heaven.
Much of common religion is well-disguised self-interest—high premium fire insurance for the afterlife—instead of self-emptying love.
.. Most of the official Catholic liturgical prayers ask in some form, “That I or we might go to heaven.” (This is not a guess. I have counted!) Is there no other priority than my personal salvation? If it is true that lex orandi est lex credendi, “the way you pray is the way you believe,” then it is no wonder Christians have such a poor record of caring for the suffering of the world and for the planet itself, and the Church has fully participated in so many wars and injustices. We have been allowed to pray in a rather self-centered way, and that fouled the Christian agenda, in my opinion.
.. Jesus talked much more about how to live on earth now than about how to get to heaven later.
.. But many Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, pushed the goal into the future, making religion into a petty reward/punishment system inside a frame of retributive justice. (The major prophets—and Jesus himself—teach restorative justice instead.) Once Christianity became a simplistic win/lose morality contest, we lost most of the practical, transformative power of the Gospel for the individual and for society.
.. The branch that imagines itself to be separate from the Vine (John 15:1-8), acts as if it is separate from God. We call the result sin, but the real sin is the imagined state of separation. It is our own delusion and decision!