Paths of Renewal: Turning Away & Serving

How does renewal happen? What does it take to be renewed? In the last Liberal Pulpit, we considered asking ourselves, "Is there something we need to get back?"

Second, is there something we need to get away from – to lose – to turn away from? Instead of getting something back, maybe we need to drop something we’ve picked up along the way. Maybe there’s some part of our world or our culture that does not serve, that could be renounced.

There are many levels and forms and degrees of renunciation. You don’t have to go all the way to becoming a mendicant monk to spiritually benefit from renouncing some aspect of worldliness. As Albert Camus said,
“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”
What might need to be removed in order to help you be renewed?

Removing speed and just slowing down might be profoundly renewing. Removing the distraction of cell phones from, say, dinner until the next morning – would that be renewing? Removing habits that aren’t serving your well-being – whether it’s too much caffeine consumption, too much alcohol consumption, too many computer games. Can you find another way to relax or give yourself a break?

Some people find it renewing to break from the patterns society pushes. What are you buying that you really don’t need? Is there some area of your consumerism that you could curtail? Maybe, for example, cut your clothing budget in half. Go ahead and wear the same clothes for several days in a row. It might be exhilarating. (See one blogger's reflections: "Same Dress. Different Day.") What cultural trap might you turn away from and thereby be made new? Is there something we need to turn away from?

Third, how can we serve? It's one of the most important insights along the spiritual path: Renewing the world is often the best path to renewing oneself. Let me share with you a number of examples.

James Arthurs found renewal in music, and he magnified that by bringing it to others. James founded the Guitars for Good program. Guitars for Good uses music therapy in order to make life a little brighter and fun for the children at Sick Kids Hospital, where James volunteers. James was able to get funding for ipods for many of the kids so they could have their music more available.

Benji Chu found renewal in running, and he magnified that by bringing it to others. Benji has run more than 30 marathons and found that running transformed his life. So Benji founded Run for Change, a bi-weekly running group and annual 5k road race for the homeless and lower income individuals in Vancouver's downtown east side. He’s arranged for running shoes to be donated and he organizes the group runs so that the disadvantaged can experience the power of running.

Mark DeMontis found renewal in playing ice hockey. But then he developed a condition that left him legally blind. Unable to pursue his dream of playing professional hockey, Mark learned about a form of hockey for the blind. He started Courage Canada, an organization that gives visually impaired kids the opportunity to learn to ice skate and play hockey.

Laura Armstrong found reneweal in making works of art, and she magnified that by using it to serve others. Laura founded Work of Heart, a not-for-profit organization that raises money for kids in Kenya by selling her art works as well as art from other local artists in Toronto.

Jim Power, a homeless Vietnam War vet in Manhattan’s lower eastside, found a creative outlet in creating hand-crafted mosaic artwork that he started posting on lampposts all over the lower eastside, transforming the streets into the “Mosaic Trail." The “Mosaic Trail” became Jim’s expression of self. His mosaics told stories about the area and thereby strengthened the identity of the neighborhood. When the city threatened to destroy his work, the community rallied around Jim to protect the “mosaic trail," now a legacy for the residents.

Aziza Chaouni finds renewal in her work as an architect, and she magnified that by using it to serve the town of Medina in Fez, Morocco. The Fez River winds through the mazelike medieval city. The river, once the soul of the city, succumbed to sewage and pollution, and in the 1950s was covered over bit by bit by slabs of concrete. Aziza’s 20-year project has been to restore this river to its former glory, and to transform her city in the process: uncovering the river and designing and implementing beautiful plazas and public spaces along its banks.

Angela Haseltine Pozzi used her art to serve the renewal of our oceans. Angela’s Washed Ashore Project collects tons of garbage washed up on beaches and turns the trash into large and colorful sculptures that draw attention to the problem of plastic pollution. She does some cutting and shaping but leaves the plastic pieces intact enough that they can be recognized as what they are: bottles or Styrofoam packaging or plastic bags. Viewers of the art recognize that they purchase items like those, discard them, and they often end up in our oceans.

Whether it is working for world justice or finding a way to bring a bit more beauty to your neighborhood, renewing our world renews us. During this season of repentence, let us also remember that social justice includes an aspect of repenting for the wrongs of our past, and the wrongs of our ancestors. For those of us with white privilege, the work of repenting through being devoted allies of the Black Lives Matter movement offers healing and renewal.

Next: Renewal through sense of place.

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This is part 2 of 3 of "Renewal"
See also:
Part 1: Rhythms of Renewal
Part 3: Sense of Place

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