Mid-afternoons, fourth Saturdays of each month, my travel partner Rick Bernardo and I set out on the Spirit Road. With our feet to the floor and the wind at our back, we ride to places real and imagined – on the way to a better world.
It’s all a theatre of the mind – a figment of radio technology generated in a stationery basement studio. In actuality, we are "riding" airwaves beamed to seven metro counties from Air America Minnesota (AM 950), the local version of the nationally progressive radio network. As co-hosts of "Spirit Road Radio," Rick Bernardo and I: meet characters (Queen of the Road, Minister Mikey); play music and games (the Transcendent Drive-In Movie); and deliver news and commentary (Spiritual Headlines of the Week). We also travel "Under the Radar" to find previously untold stories from grassroots America. In six months, we have visited day care workers, union organizers, local and global peacemakers, environmental activists, and Native-American leaders – all traveling the crossroads of spirituality and social change. In so doing, we find we are cruising the cutting edge of an explosive new movement.
A spiritual revolution is sweeping the country. It has risen from a widespread collective appetite for deeper human understanding and effective involvement. In his bestselling new book, The Left Hand of God, nationally known author and speaker Rabbi Michael Lerner says: "There is an enormous spiritual hunger in America. It is a yearning for a new way to think and a new way to live…. We want meaning in our lives, a way of connecting our own path to our higher purpose."
A sure sign of a growing movement is when it permeates mass culture. Lerner’s book is but one of several published recently on this subject. Mainstream and alternative magazines, including Lerner’s Tikkun, have recently run feature stories on "The New Spirituality." A plethora of films on spiritual issues will have been released by year’s end: The Celestine Prophecy, The Da Vinci Code, The Peaceful Warrior, Conversations with God (all based on previously published books). The internet is full of blogs and sites offering help for the body, mind and soul.
But an effective movement needs more than education and entertainment. It needs people moved to action. That happens when citizens combine spirituality (in the broad, inclusive sense) with a desire for social change and the commitment to do something about it. In a recent special issue of Tikkun focusing on Spiritual Activism, Van Jones writes: "…It’s in that convergence of spiritual people becoming active and active people becoming spiritual that the hope of humanity now rests." That is what Spirit Road Radio is all about.
The term Spiritual Activism was pioneered by the Association of Global New Thought and like-minded organizations that, while spiritually based, also believe in the need to take action to create positive change in the world. Such groups come together on a vision of a society governed by love and compassion. They define Spiritual Activism as "Spirit and Love put into action, and prayer made visible."
Lerner and his supporters have expanded upon that principle. Their goal is to take back the country, and the emphasis on spiritual values and spiritual activism celebrated by the Religious Right, by promoting a new Bottom Line: replacing the lust for money and power with love, caring, generosity, kindness, non-violence, and awe and wonder at creation, and by inspiring citizen activism that will bring it about. In his book, Lerner lays out a spiritual covenant for America, and it includes virtually every important social and political issue, as well as "next steps" that people can take to promote their cause or agenda.
A significant example of current spiritual activism can be found in an emerging grassroots organization founded by Lerner in 2005. It is The Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), headquartered with Tikkun in Washington, D.C. [www.spiritualprogressives.org].
NSP has held two national Spiritual Activism conferences in the nation’s capitol. These gatherings have focused on challenging the misuse of religion by the Religious Right, creating a New Bottom Line in America, and addressing the anti-spiritual and anti-religious biases (some would say fears) that can be part of liberal culture. They also have begun to adopt issue platforms for translation into public policy.
There are now some 50 NSP chapters across the country – including one in the Twin Cities [www.NSPmn.org]. The Minnesota affiliate has grown from a handful of founders to several dozen regulars and a mailing list of hundreds that expanded greatly following Lerner’s visit here last spring. NSP Minnesota is planning its own conference in November, with Lerner as the keynote speaker.
"Michael Lerner has documented the spiritual hunger in America," says Bruce Peterson, Minnesota NSP chair. "With our inaugural conference on November 18, the Minnesota NSP movement will have a chance to show the community that the solutions are right here among us, that in every field – health care, education, business, environmental protection, popular culture – progressive thinkers are starting to organize their lives and their institutions to pursue love, hope and justice instead of power and personal gain."
As Rick and I travel the Spirit Road in coming months, we are committed to finding and promoting examples of Spiritual Activism by featuring organizations and individuals who combine spirituality and social change to make a difference in the world. Our goal is to increase the depth and breadth of spiritual literacy, and to support anyone and everyone in living out their deepest commitments. In the process, we will open up dialogue among people of various beliefs helping them find ways to work together, bridge differences, and heal our world.
There is a gnawing hunger in our land for that kind of conversation – and for vehicles to foster it. As we venture down the Spirit Road, we seek partners to ride with us – sponsors, program guests and ideas for each leg of our travels. As we suggest at the end of each show: "The road calls us to where our deep joy and the world’s needs meet." We’d be so glad if you joined us, wherever you are on your own journey.
Hop in and buckle up for the ride. If you want, we might even put the top down.