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Spiritual Radicals: A New Spirituality

What's Next? These Seven Trailblazers Are Helping Define The Future of Spirituality

Reverend Jes Kast by Studio One by William Ames

These seven spiritual leaders represent a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and traditions. They are creating change on the ground, touching lives, and helping to define the future of spirituality.

“When I see things that don’t work, I sit and I think, and I contemplate and I ask for guidance and I download. I come to new thinking and new practices and certainly new ideas.” That’s how Rabbi Wayne Dosick describes being a radical. It’s not easy being innovative. A person can see things differently and come up with new solutions only by putting in the work.

These seven spiritual leaders represent a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and traditions. They are creating change on the ground, touching lives, and helping to define the future of spirituality.

REVEREND JES KAST

Jes Kast

Jes Kast felt called to be a minister from the time she was just five years old. “I did not see a woman being a minister leading me in a church service until I was in seminary. So that was 23 years of my life. I never saw a woman leading me, but I kept at it. I did not let the dream inside me die.”

Kast’s sexual orientation adds another degree of difficulty. She is married to a woman. “I had to deal with my own internalized homophobia and my own inner voices of religious traditions that I was taught. And I had to deconstruct them,” she says. “I think anybody who feels like an outsider at any time has two paths in front of them,” Kast says. “Two big choices: to leave it, which is okay, and that needs to be blessed, or to dig into it more. And I chose to dig into it more.”

Kast is currently the pastor at Faith United Church of Christ in College Station, Pennsylvania, but she credits two other states with molding her. “Michigan raised me and New York formed me,” Kast explains. Michigan taught me about the value of caring for your neighbor, showing up with a casserole, checking in and watering your neighbor’s garden when they’re out of town. Michigan taught me so much about the joy of sitting around a campfire and talking and just being together. Michigan taught me about a slower spirituality that I value a lot.”

“New York gave me so much, gave me the space to come out, gave me the courage in my spirituality. New York reinforced the chutzpah that I’ve always had in my life. It was almost like a sanctuary for me of 8.4 million interreligious people constantly in dialogue in this great cosmopolitan city. New York was, is, and continues to be such a spiritual place for me.”

For Kast, being a spiritual radical is about authentic faith. “People would claim their faith or religion and I know I would pause and think, Does it matter? Does it really change how you live? Show me that faith and spirituality and religion matters. Does it change your life in a way that brings about more justice? That brings about more goodness, that brings about more love?”

She is drawn to other people with an authentic faith even if they are from a different tradition. “The other spiritual radicals are the people that I’m most interested in, even if our religions are different. I say this often. It’s my Jewish and Muslim friends that actually inspire me to be a better Christian.”

MALLORY CORBIN

“For me, spirituality is about honoring my dignity and always honoring the dignity of those around me. Honoring of dignity is a radical thing right now. And the fact that all people have dignity and then, in my tradition, all people are invited to take in the table, the sacrament of God. That’s radical. There’s a belonging for everybody. For a lot of my practice, personally, and in my leadership, there’s a lot about human dignity, and the honoring of the sacred earth dignity as well. That’s pretty radical. ... When I look at my scripture, the love of God, the love of neighbor, the love of earth. And every day we have an opportunity to practice that. Am I loving myself today? Am I loving my neighbor today? Am I loving God how I understand God? We are always practicing that and love, true love is revolutionary.” —Reverend Jes Kast

RABBI WAYNE DOSICK

Rabbi Wayne Dosick

“I grew up in the Jewish suburban synagogues of the late forties, the fifties, and the early sixties. Everything was hunky-dory. Peachy keen. The synagogues were jammed full and the Hebrew schools were jammed full. It was the social center of the community,” says Rabbi Wayne Dosick. “But it began to fall apart.”

Dosick says part of the problem is that Jewish communities were caught up in the postwar boom years, which meant “building community and building buildings and building institutions,” instead of encouraging vibrant spirituality. “The goal of religion should be and has to be enhancing your spirituality. That’s why so many kids went to the Buddhists and the meditation centers and even yoga and all the kinds of spiritual activities.”

Dosick has spent decades finding ways to bring a rich spirituality into modern Judaism, embracing the past without being hindered by it. As part of that work, he founded the Elijah Minyan in San Diego, which describes itself as “a group of Jewish seekers.” “The old programming was very nice to create community and to be together, and it’s all very, very important. But how do we create? How do we reframe? Reframe the rituals, the practices, in order to make them God
centered?”

As an example, Dosick points to the tradition of lighting candles on Friday night to begin the Sabbath. “It’s a wonderful touchstone,” he says. “But it can be much more than that.”

“I teach people the following: What was the very first act of creation? God said, Let there be light. And so if we stare into that candle flame for 15 or 30 or 60 seconds, that’s all it takes. Very possibly we can get in touch with that primordial

moment of creation. And if we can get in touch with the moment of creation, we may be able to get in touch with the primordial creator, God. So we take a ritual that’s been brought to us for millennia and reframe it to help us get closer to that intimate relationship with God.”

His latest book, available in April, is Radical Loving: One God, One World, One People. “We need each one of us to create a deep, personal, intimate, loving relationship and to turn our faith into action, and to create a deep sense of responsibility within our community. We have to go beyond. This is what I call love beyond love.”

MALLORY CORBIN

BRIAN MCLAREN

Brian Mclaren

A prolific author, speaker, activist, and public theologian, Brian McLaren is a former church founder and pastor and is a leader in what is being called “Emergence Christianity.” It’s a post-colonial, postmodern Christianity. His numerous books include Faith After Doubt (reviewed in this issue), The Great Spiritual Migration, A New Kind of Christian, and the upcoming Do I Stay Christian?

Calling For a New Kind of Christianity

McLaren grew up in a fundamentalist setting. He observes, “Fundamentalist Christians, while rigid in theology, are actually flexible in their methodology”—take, for example, the churches filled with people in jeans singing rock and roll Christian songs. When he moved into the Protestant world, he ran into theological flexibility but methodological rigidity. “They weren’t afraid of critical Biblical scholarship. They weren’t afraid of asking questions about sexuality and science and so on, but you couldn’t mess with the committee structure or tamper very much with the liturgy.”

He urges Christians to embark on “a radical rethinking of both our methodology and our theology.”

One goal of the new sort of Christianity McLaren envisions is to welcome practices that enhance spirituality that are outside the Christian tradition. “Many Christians discover real spiritual help in yoga; they can make a connection between the practice of yoga and their Christian identity. But then they go and sit through an hour of liturgy where they never move their body except to kneel, and they think, ‘Why do we have to pretend for this hour that yoga doesn’t exist?’”

KATHRYN DRURY WAGNER

“What has become increasingly clear to me is whatever else you want to say about Jesus, he led a movement. Jesus is a movement leader and what he was starting was not a new religion, it was a spiritual movement within his own religion. What seems to have happened is we turned it into a religion and lost the movement. When you look at Jesus as a movement leader you see what a radical he was; he was arguing for a completely different view of the world. A different set of values. A completely different way we should treat each other, a different way we should look at money. How we look at leadership and authority. Those to me are the most interesting things about Jesus. ... We have every right to look at what Jesus actually said and did and what was he trying to change.” —Brian Mclaren

REVEREND ALINE SILVA

Aline Silva


“I’m a young woman of color, specifically of African and indigenous descent, and I also identify as pansexual,” says Aline Silva. In becoming an ordained Baptist pastor, she explains, “Everything about who I am feels othering within Christianity. It feels radical because a lot of us have been taught that diversity and fluidity within an identity or welcoming one’s ingenuity was not a part of what it meant to be Christian.”

Silva is a co-director of CreatureKind, a nonprofit based in Oregon that engages churches in an effort to bring faith principles to the welfare of farmed animals. Silva explains, “It also means that I am caring for folks who are working on farms, who are harvesting the plant-based foods that I am trying to eat. We know that a peach that is organic but was locally harvested by slave labor is not creature kind. It’s not radical love.”

“I go straight to Jesus as a radical and revolutionary, who, within his context, was a person who fought against the injustices of an empire that oppressed peoples, the environment, animals, and the earth itself,” Silva says.

She adds: “We often talk about the good news of God, but we don’t talk about the fact that if
in fact it is good news, it has to be good news for everybody.”

For Silva, faith in action means working to “dismantle and redeem the systems that dominate our lives [and] that means questioning and holding to accountability the things today that stifle loving conditions for all beings on earth.”

MALLORY CORBIN

“Some people would think that I would try to continue to bring more LGBT folks into the church, to transform it. I am not about that. The struggle still lies in the fact that the church itself has to radically change before it is ready to welcome the LGBT community. We can’t just say that we welcome folks and then expect them to behave in a certain way according to our expectations.” —Reverend Aline Silva

HALA KHOURI

Hala Khouri

“I always say that I come to this work by way of Beirut, Lebanon, which is where I was born, in 1973. In 1975 civil war broke out,” says Hala Khouri. Coming from the Middle East to the United States at a young age “is probably the most formative thing that brought me to where I am.”

Trauma is a very deep well from which to draw. Our past informs our present. Says Khouri, “I think that our roots are in our trauma, and I use the word trauma to describe any life experiences that push us. They can make us grow, they can break us, and everything in between.”

Khouri felt a need to understand herself and the world to lessen her own anxiety. “Being married to a Black Jewish man, having children who are Arab, Christian, Jewish, white, black,” only made that more imperative.

Her journey took her first to yoga, and then to counsel- ling and community psychology. But her training, ironically, pushed her away from authentic existence in the world. “I started to use my yoga practice, my spiritual beliefs, and my psychological beliefs to continue to insulate myself more and more from anything that corrupted that [perspective] or didn’t fit into it.”

Living in Los Angeles, “I got into my own little bubble. And I could afford access to healthy food, and then I would only go to places that serve healthy foods, only be exposed to people who could afford healthy food, so my world got really

small, and I had the privilege to make it small.”
Leaving that insulated space was a process. It really took

off in 2007, when she co-founded Off The Mat, Into the World. Khouri and the other co-founders were mainly working with “affluent white women. They had extra time, extra money, extra energy, and they were wanting to then go out and serve.”

Khouri recalls, “A lot of harm was happening when people were going outside of their own communities trying to help.” The organization began training its volunteers in self-awareness, helping them understand their own motivations. After training hundreds of people a year, “We realized we had to do some really important work on recognizing power, oppression, racism, able-ism; these larger structures of oppression,” she says.

There was this next level kind of schooling that we all got,” she says. “Mostly from people who were generous enough to give us the time to say ‘Hey, this is where you’re really screwing up.’ ... We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s true for everybody.”

KALIA KELMENSON

“It’s one thing to say to folks “You wanna go out and serve, you have to know yourself, otherwise you could do harm.” And then there’s the next layer of, ‘You want to go ahead and serve? What’s your analysis of the problem? Are you just looking at symptoms of the problem?’ For example, people are homeless. We need to get them homes and beds. Are you stepping back to ask why it is like this? And who are the people that are dealing with this the most, with housing insecurity? What are the larger structures at play here?” —Hala Khouri

KAMEELAH MU'MIN RASHAD

“Social justice and activism is at the core of how I understand my faith,” Kameelah Mu'Min Rashad says. “There’s a duty and a trust that we have as those who in some ways may be more privileged. There’s a tradition that says you cannot go to sleep with a full belly if your neighbor is hungry. These are the traditions that certainly were highlighted in my home.”

She is the founder of the Black Muslim Psychology Conference. “What I’ve come to in terms of my own growth, as a black woman born and raised Muslim, is to think about the necessity of creating affinity spaces for black Muslims,” she explains, “to just have the space to talk about, ‘What does it mean to experience that kind of double marginalization?’”

“There were reactions to creating that space,” Mu'Min Rashad says. “Oh, this is divisive, you’re segregating or excluding yourself. And I’m like, the exclusion already happened. That’s not something that I’m creating. To really be able to articulate the need for rest from harm that people are really craving, refuge from harm. I think that’s something radical.”

Mu'Min Rashad explains, “There’s absolutely an emphasis on wherever a Muslim is, that their presence and their impact should be one that people remember. The good that is done right, and that there was progress, there was change, there was growth as a result of the presence of that person. For me, I could not conceptualize a faith that did not require me to also work towards justice.”

“For a spiritual radical, it means that you have to understand your individual influence, and what it means to then live that. I would want someone to say, ‘What I experienced of Kameelah as a Muslim was what she did. It was her actions. It was how she treated people.’ They can learn about Islam in a book. But if they want to learn about how I live my faith, they can witness that, witness good work, witness sincerity, witness generosity. That goes such a long way.”

She is also the founder of Muslim Wellness Foundation. “My bridge between faith and activism and mental health is we’re thinking about alleviating suffering.”

“It’s advocating for the whole person,” she says, “not just the psychological dimension. Does this person have their basic needs met? If they do not, it’s going to be very difficult for them to engage in a process that might be insight-oriented, or to ask them to imagine and envision what their life could be when the reality is so challenging.”

MALLORY CORBIN

EMILY QURESHI-HURST

Emily Qureshi-Hurst

Imagine a glass bottle on the beach. It breaks into a few pieces and can easily be put back together. But then the pieces are swept up in the waves. Over time the pieces become smaller and smaller and distributed over a wider area.

The disciplines within academia are like the glass bottle that has been rolled in the tides, says Emily Qureshi- Hurst, an Oxford PhD student. Everything from mathematics to metaphysics stems from the same basic inquiry—the same original glass bottle.

“As the edges of the sea glass become smooth,” she says, “so too do the boundaries of theology and science. What once fit easily together now seems like it never could have been part of the same larger whole.”

“I’m not any closer to having a faith myself,” Qureshi-Hurst comments, but working at the intersection of spirituality and science has brought her a new appreciation for faith. “When I came to study religion when

I was 18, I was very much in the kind of camp with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris,” she says, “and those people who think that religion is this massive force for evil in society, and it’s crushing the scientific spirit.”

As she continued her work, she discovered that “as long as you don’t hold a fundamentalist religious world-view or a fundamentalist scientific worldview or you think that science can answer all of the questions that humans could ever ask, then you can see that there’s no need for conflict between science and religion.”

In one recent paper, Qureshi-Hurst collaborates with a physicist to explore what she calls “dependent salvation,” the idea that salvation occurs only in the human mind. The paper explores the philosophical and theological implications of cutting-edge findings from quantum mechanics.

“I hope there will always be those of us who walk along the beach picking up and reuniting that which the years have torn asunder,” Qureshi-Hurst says. “After all, how else could we come to know the rich and complex reality in which we live?”

MALLORY CORBIN

“There might be certain religious claims that don’t fit with science, and there might be certain scientific theories that don’t fit with particular interpretations of religion, but science and religion don’t need to be in conflict.” —Emily Qureshi-Hurst


Read the full interviews here.