Second Wave Spirituality: Passion for Peace, Passion for Justice
by Chris Saade
North Atlantic Books, 2014
Economic globalization obliterated traditional boundaries and created previously unimagined opportunities for collaboration and expansion. It also unleashed a series of unintended and problematic changes, exposing those with the least power to ecological devastation, untenable economic disparity, and life-threatening hardships.
What if the constructive aspects of globalization could be harnessed with fully positive results? Author Chris Saade calls for a globalization of “sacred activism” (a term coined by Andrew Harvey) that if realized, has the potential to transform a broken world into a planet of peace.
Saade knows something of the brokenness of this world. Raised in a Christian family in Lebanon, he describes the civil war that raged there, noting, “The violence was everywhere … my family and I lost our home, our belongings, and our businesses…. Beirut was literally burning.” This experience deepened and informed his lifelong work for peace. He founded the Institute of Life-Leadership and Coaching, a nonprofit in Charlotte, North Carolina, that draws on spiritual and psychological principles aligned with inclusiveness, unconditional love, and community responsibility to teach leadership skills. He also founded the Olive Branch Center with his wife, Jessie Thompson, to further promote global solidarity and peace-building.
Over the past twenty years Saade has studied social activists and spiritual leaders and has identified a new wave of spirituality that is both dynamic and evolutionary. He offers his findings in his book, Second Wave Spirituality: Passion for Peace, Passion for Justice, and argues that we are in the midst of an exciting new manifestation of faith. This wave of spiritual consciousness-raising and the actions it inspires has the potential, according to Saade, to unleash an epidemic of positive change across the entire world.
Saade writes that common approaches to spiritual fulfillment tend to be abstract, passive, focused inward, and disconnected from the plight of others around us. Such approaches, he warns, will lead to our destruction by reinforcing a power-based, winner-take-all approach to life. Saade observes that the impersonal pursuit of power and privilege often wreaks havoc on the planet and its inhabitants. It destroys natural resources, trounces the defenseless and helpless, and relegates those outside of our immediate family or community to a polarizing “them,” as opposed to “us.”
These systems of exploitation and oppression have thrived in part because supposedly devout people are often passive bystanders, content to practice their faith in an abstract way that requires little of them. Saade argues that we must reimagine faith and spirituality with a critical emphasis on love-in-action. If we do not, we may suffer dire consequences—both as individuals and as a part of all of human civilization. He points to current massive economic disparities, increased violence, the largely unchecked destruction of our natural resources, and the staggering numbers of people living in poverty—including a shameful number of children—as evidence of our unsustainable and tragic path.
A Faith-Based Response to Global Crisis
But even as this impending planetary crisis threatens to unfold, abundant evidence exists of a new and inspiring faith-based response fueled by love that seeks a peaceful alternative. Saade notes that what is also new is “the considerable large number of people from every culture who are acting out their faith in pursuing humanitarian causes and issues of democratic freedom and global solidarity.” This is an extremely hopeful reality amid many distressing realties and is not limited by geographical, ethnic, or religious boundaries. The author defines this second wave spirituality as “the spontaneous and compassionate activism arising in almost all countries from within religious traditions and spiritual communities.”
Saade describes a grassroots movement that is both individual and collective, a calling that connects the human heart to earth and back again. Unlike the first wave of spirituality, the awakening that opened up religious rigidity but did not require faith-fueled participation in the struggles for human rights and justice, the era of the second wave requires individuals to actively pursue peace and social justice for the oppressed, the defenseless (including animals), and the earth.
Thus, second wave spirituality is wholly inclusive, diverse, cooperative, engaging, passionate, and active. Saade’s writings are similarly passionate and engaging. His arguments draw on anecdotal evidence, personal insights, and the wisdom of a diverse host of social change leaders, political visionaries, and spiritual philosophers. He includes the inspiring messages of iconic leaders like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. He also lifts up hidden gems through numerous contributions of less familiar thinkers and activists. His text explores historical examples of the emergence of this active (but nonviolent) love response in the face of great turmoil and violence—like the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and the Arab Spring.
Second wave spirituality is engaged in social justice and ecological sustainability and is committed to universal ethical values and nonviolence. It recognizes the great struggles in life and asks that we confront and affirm the existence of suffering. It recognizes that by honoring and embracing grief and fully experiencing the pain that suffering produces, we are brought closer to the heart of God. It requires us to move beyond a mere toleration of diversity and asks that we fully celebrate diversity. Second wave spirituality is relationship-oriented, co-creative, passionate, and protective of all children. It is earth- and animal-focused. It is evolutionary.
Ultimately, Saade warns that the time for action is now. The inaction and apathy underscoring the status quo will only further our demise. Saade writes, “How we choose to practice our spirituality—either socially indifferent or socially engaged—will ultimately determine if we survive as a species or self-destruct.”
Who Should Ride the Second Wave?
Three groups of readers likely make up Saade’s target audience: spiritual leaders, lay people, and those already engaged in this movement (“sacred activists”). Each group may experience the reading of this work differently.
Saade takes to task leaders in faith communities who encourage an emphasis on inner-life issues—a lofty spirituality that is privatized, abstract, and passive. He describes this approach as a “heavy narcotic administered to the soul” and calls on spiritual leaders to encourage participation in faith that is immersed in reality—a get-your-hands-dirty communion with others in need, with the earth, and with suffering. He is not satisfied with believers finding an inner peace that is divorced from the human condition but rather seeks one that stands in solidarity in feeling and experience with others in the world.
Will those at the helm of our temples, churches, mosques, and other faith communities agree that ideal spiritual practice must go beyond the individual and the private prayerful communion with his God? Faith communities’ increasing engagement in community-oriented work, the proliferation of local and international mission trips, and other service-oriented expressions of faith suggest that the seeds of second wave spirituality have been well-received by many spiritual leaders who actively sow them. I suspect that many who steer their flocks will find this an affirming read.
More skeptical lay readers may wince at Saade’s emotive language and wonder if it is too “touchy-feely” to be pragmatic. But Saade’s rich and impassioned approach is not mutually exclusive with practical suggestions and applications. The marriage of lyricism and practicality in this book serves to represent the type of response Saade advocates. Some practical and familiar applications of love-in-action include microfinance, sustainable development, and social entrepreneurship; as well as more individual options like voting, artistic exercises, and investments of time and treasure.
This book holds up love as an ideal, a bridge of connection, a rally cry for peace, and a choice to be made every day. It compels the average reader to examine her comfort level with these semantics, and to question why the use of the word “love” so liberally and strategically may elicit discomfort or uneasiness. Why is there resistance to Saade’s reasonable hope that “the word love will be raised up and it will carry a deep sense of social relevance and meaning”? Those grappling with this tension might find resolution by analyzing the second wave phenomenon within a book club or other space where discussion could offer another layer of familiarity and comfort with these ideas.
Sacred activists, those who are currently engaged in second wave work, make up the final part of Saade’s audience and will surely find great inspiration in this work. Saade’s many examples of love-in-action, his discussion of the historical evolution of this phenomenon, and his practical advice on how to thrive within the movement will bolster those who are already on this journey.
Can It Work?
Saade presents a grand vision. But is it attainable? Are we willing to critically examine those structures that may benefit us materially while also oppressing us spiritually? Can we respond in the way he suggests?
Communication theory suggests that our reality is socially constructed—that we make sense of our lives through our relationships and our shared understanding of our experiences. Saade counts on this phenomenon to work positively, to allow our innermost longings to be satisfied through our individual contributions coming together to co-create a transformed world.
There are challenges to making this idea a reality. In our modern era, those of us in the West have perhaps never been more connected and more disconnected at the same time. Advancements in technology and changes in our work structures have created an existence without boundaries—a potential plus for Saade’s premise—but so many of our connections run broad but not deep. We live in a deeply egocentric, “selfie” culture that creates virtual realities where we are the stars of our own lives, as seen on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; we are addicted to reality television with its promise that the mundane can make you famous and immortal.
It may seem that this cannot be reconciled with second wave spirituality. Expressing a core view of the second wave, Saade writes:
The idea of the single superhero who by himself saves everything is a belief that is part of the culture of domination. Lasting and effective transformation is brought about by the millions of authentically human heroes working in tandem.… Every heroic act is holy. Every act of love is heroic.
If we find it difficult to reconcile these seemingly opposing forces (self-absorbed individualism and altruistic participation in a collective), we are aided by Saade’s call for the “unification of paradoxes.” Saade notes that paradoxical opposites have an enriching effect that creates fullness of experience, and that “enlightenment requires both sides of every truth.” We must acknowledge and even embrace the part of us that is egotistical and self-centered because a connection to our own uniqueness will put us closer to discerning the individual way we may contribute to the larger good. In fact, we are individual and anonymous, and also uniquely indispensible parts of a collective. Saade suggests that each of us has an authentic contribution to make to this reformation; we all are pieces to this puzzle, each one necessary to the larger picture, and no one containing the picture fully on her own.
Saade’s understanding of the individual calling to the larger movement has interesting layers that underscore its potential for success. Another byproduct of advanced technology is that it has made it possible to watch the violence and suffering all across the world and to silently bear witness to this turmoil. The impact of this overwhelming virtual access to human misery may have a numbing effect: desensitized and disheartened, the average person may feel her contribution to change is surely too small to make a difference in the face of such adversity.
But second wave spirituality pleads with us to not discredit the part we have to play in the reformation. Each piece is valuable and needed—but is admittedly (and comfortingly) small. Saade notes that each of us will serve differently and advises, “Do not do less than your calling but do not attempt to do more.” This alternative to a disengaged cynicism seems reasonable for most of us. We are further comforted by the notion that doing our part will reap ever-growing benefits. As Saade notes, “Every step forward spurs the desire in someone else to act.”
A Joy Forever
If second wave spirituality offers the opportunity for the individual to make a distinctive and impactful contribution, certainly Chris Saade’s donation (at least in part) is this book. He urges those embracing second wave spirituality to celebrate the beauty in the world, like those in the romantic movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did, and to experience the divine and human longing of romanticism that pushes us further along our evolutionary destiny. “The heart of the spiritual romantic,” he writes, “is a heart broken with empathy and grief yet at the same time a heart in awe of the world, a heart in love with the possibilities of planet earth, a hungry heart, an outraged heart, and a heart impassioned for service and social change.”
There is beauty, longing, and heart in this book. There is also power expressed through the words on the page. Something mighty exists through the living nature of language—and what it is able to stir in others. Consider a significant experience that Saade shares from the late 1970s in war-torn Lebanon. In the midst of the tumult, Mikkhail Nimy, a well-known Lebanese author and compatriot of Khalil Gibran who urged his audience to remember that the power of “the sacred logos” was greater than all of the destruction and pain that they faced, inspired him. Saade recalls: “This rather frail man of many years galvanized us with his belief that the beauty of the words love, justice, peace, and freedom can never be marred. The sacred ‘word’ stands more powerful than guns and armed battalions.”
Perhaps it is even powerful enough to change the entire world.