GROUNDED: A Book Review

Posted January 21, 2016 @ 1:23pm | by Tripp

This is a most belated review of a fine book by Dr. Diana Butler Bass. Grounded: Finding God in the World A Spiritual Revolution is a loving theological treatise on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the ground upon which we stand figuratively and literally. In it Bass offers an ecothologically founded expansion of the sociological work that she has done for more than a decade. It is a spiritual memoir, an autoethnographic exploration of her experience of our shared moment in the history of human faithfulness. 

My copy is dogeared and scrawled in. "Yes. This." or "Of course. Right." It makes it hard to write a review brief enough for a blog. But I'm going to give it a shot by talking about one chapter in the book. 

Chapter five of the book is entitled "Home." In the middle of the monograph, it is the central theological notion that ties the entire book together. From her ecolotheology to her notions of righteous justice, Bass is actually speaking of what we colloquially call "home." Beginning at the ending, she writes: 

"Home, a holy habitation, a sacred space. We do not often stop to consider where we dwell, much less how it shapes us to move about in the world, for either good or ill. But somehow we keep searching for home, looking for a safe haven to reside." (192)

However we frame the question ourselves in terms of purpose, meaning, or "home," the personal and collective sense of belonging is (still?) the cornerstone of faithfulness. Our religious lives are still about our core identity and how, if possible, we recognize that identity where we find ourselves on the planet and in relationship with one another. And, as sacred space, this sense of home is also our sense of God. My house is your house, says the LORD. "Home is the geography of our souls. The 'where' questions of home naturally open to the spiritual question: Where is God?" (166)

Most of humanity is transient. Immigrants, refugees, migrant workers, or the upwardly mobile, human beings are a mobile lot. As such, our spiritual quest involves some sense of beloging. Where and to whom do we belog? "People are out of place. Transient moderns make their homes in new places." (167) If this sociological trend is worth our attention, so too are the theologies that emerge from such a people. Thus, this is a revolution. No longer do we look for people in fixed places to tell us Who or Where God is. We find out for ourselves. 

We are all on a pilgrimage of some kind looking for healing, renewal, and an encounter with God who is...where? Bass points to the research of Richard Florida: 

At the Q gathering in 2010, urbanologist Richard Florida observed that young adults meeting one another no longer ask, “What do you do?” They ask, “Where do you live?” More and more people will change careers in order to stay in a place—connected to family, friends, and local culture—than will change place to stay in a career. The 20th-century American dream was to move out and move up; the 21st-century dream seems to be to put down deeper roots. This quest for local, embodied, physical presence may well be driven by the omnipresence of the virtual and a dawning awareness of the thinness of disembodied life.

God is wherever we are, where we put down roots and open our eyes to the world around us. No longer longing for Some Other Place to go either here on earth or on some cosmological Elsewhere, we are finding God and ourselves right where we are. In this sense, the local church that points elsewhere is actually pointing nowhere. More and more people want home, not a ticket out. 

Sadly, home is not always safe. It is not always clean. Sometimes it's polluted and dangerous. God is no less present in these places and this is where a need for justice and reconciliation are most needed, where God speaks a word of lament and hope rather than "let's get out of here." Quoting Mother Teresa, Bass writes "We must make our homes centers of compassion and forgive endlessly." Forgiveness births compassionate action. It births social change. Home is worth caring for. 

We develop spiritual habits (habitat) that help us all create home. Hospitality, forgiveness, gratitude, sharing a table, and festival are just the beginning of these habits, these practices. This is the stuff of what I call "religion." Bass frames them as revolutionary or counter cultural practices. 

This is what makes the book challenging for me. How is the quotidian revolutionary? How is the commonplace or obvious The Big New Thing? Perhaps because the quotidian is changing.

Bass shares her own life of moving from place to place, finding the sacred in all the places where she has lived in her life, in the communities there, the neighborhoods, and the congregations. This is where the book opens up for me. Whenever Diana shares her own journey and finds herself in the data generated by Galup or Pew and names the encounter of God the prose comes alive.

What good is social science data unless you can show the people whom it represents and the God they worship? 

Thus, for Diana, the revolution is domestic, commpnplace, quotidian. It's habituated. It is rooted deep in the ground and flows through like a river. It is the air we breathe. The revolution is about being where you are (cue "Stand" by REM) and naming the God who is already present and involved in the lives we have. 

It's a good book. Grab yourself a copy. Read it with a friend. Share a meal. 

If you want to hear Diana talk about the book and some of her ideas, take a listen to this interview with Rob Bell. Their musing on the "minor chord" is good fun. 

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