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R&V Reflections: Soul Boom by Rainn Wilson

Image: Rainn WIlson

Rainn Wilson, the actor who played Dwight on The Office, one of my family’s favorite TV shows, begins his book Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution with these fine words:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

Mary Oliver

When the preface to a book begins with Mary Oliver, I know I’ve found a fellow sojourner.

Rainn Wilson and I do not share the same faith, but we are both believers, believers in God, believers in universal human experiences like love and suffering, and believers in the ability of our human race to live in harmony, make peace, and be united.

To make that happen, Wilson and I also agree that what we need here in ‘Merica—the land of the free to do whatever we want and the home of the bravely ignoring what anyone else thinks—is a spiritual revolution.

Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution by Rainn Wilson

Before Rainn Wilson can make a case for why we need a spiritual revolution, he has to make a case for why what you’re doing, Dr. Phil, just isn’t working out for ya.

Soul Boom humorously and smartly outlines some of the reasons we need spirituality in the first place, what healthy spirituality is, what falls into the void left when spirituality isn’t present in our lives (anxiety, depression, despair, loneliness, and other painful things), and “Death and How to Live It.” These first few chapters present the evidence for why a spiritual revolution might be at-hand. 

Wilson then proceeds to outline a brief history of God, other spiritual pilgrims, religion, faith, what the perfect religion might look like, and playing fixer-upper with our broken planet. You might say he’s asking, Why aren’t the existing religious expressions “doing it” for so many people these days?

Religion, and faith, give us a framework for exploring our life’s purpose. They help us answer the most difficult questions: Why is there suffering? Why am I here? What is the point? Where are we going? When will we get there? How should I live in the meantime?

But there are a lot of people in the United States who aren’t convinced that religion, or even spirituality, has that much to offer us anymore. 

Those of us who are religious feel flummoxed. What do you mean, you don’t want love, joy, peace, acceptance, and forgiveness?!

Those who aren’t religious would probably reply, well, we don’t actually see you being very loving, joyful, peaceful, accepting, or forgiving. We’ve got a bit of brand misalignment. What we say we’re all about isn’t what we look like most of the time.

Do Christians Need a Spiritual Revolution?

Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution © (2023) Hachette Co. 

It’s probably safe to say that Christians have been calling for a spiritual revolution of one form or another since well before resurrection Sunday. 

John the Baptist spent his life and ministry calling people to repent, or turn back, to God, so that they could welcome in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus himself was spiritual revolution in the flesh, flipping tables and simmering religion down to two simple, overarching laws—Love God and love others, and, like many other revolutionaries (including John the Baptist), he was killed for having the audacity to question the ruling powers and authorities, especially the religious powers and authorities.

The early Christians followed in Jesus’ footsteps—literally, in some cases—and preached a bold and inclusive love from one God for all humans who were made in that God’s image, a God who loved them so much that he sent his one and only son to save the world through him. From age to age, there have been other fellow believers like these, believers who were willing to cross the dividing lines to offer hope to the hopeless, love for the loveless, homes for the homeless, and life for the lifeless, often at great personal expense.

Being rooted in the love of Christ is truly transformative, so much so that Christians who have experienced the transforming power of God’s love cannot help but to want to share it with the rest of the world. Through that kind of love, joy overflows. Peace transcends suffering and grief. Hope weathers discouragement and despair.

I would argue that Christianity has attention deficit disorder. Instead of staying focused on the big questions that perplex and confound every human heart, someone else—the media, politicians, people in power, even religious leaders—shake other shiny objects in front of our faces that on the surface may look like worthy causes, but they aren’t actually the Main Thing. 

And the Main Thing is and will always be God’s love for all of humanity. 

Out of that pours all of the other stuff that matters: compelling stories, joy, righteousness and justice, virtue, community, and compassion, among other things. These, actually, are quite close to the seven pillars of a spiritual revolution, according to Wilson, which is the final call-to-action in Soul Boom. According to Wilson, they are what we need to turn this sad and despairing ship around:

  1. Create a new mythology (tell better and more compelling stories)
  2. Celebrate joy and fight cynicism (joy)
  3. Destroy adversarial systems (justice)
  4. Build something new; don’t just protest (righteousness)
  5. Systematize grassroots movements (community)
  6. Invest in virtues education (virtue)
  7. Harness radical compassion (compassion)

These pillars feel solid to me, like the message Jesus taught throughout the gospels, pillars we should build our communities of faith on. These pillars—anchored by the “stone the builders rejected” that became the Cornerstone—aren’t made up of dividing lines and morality checkboxes. They aren’t polarizing or politicized. They don’t ask for party affiliation at the door. And they aren’t particularly shiny, maybe even a little hard to market. 

But the goal isn’t to grow in numbers and bottom line. The goal is to actually look like the God we worship, to grow in Christ’s image and likeness, to be more like Christ, the most compelling person who ever lived. The goal is for the body of Christ that is the church to live and move and have its being in the very heart and mind of Christ.

Like the Israelites, every generation seems to forget their One True Love. Every generation needs to reawaken to the wondrous love and power that unites all of creation. Every generation needs to ignite their own imaginations, excavate the spiritual truths of the wisdom teachers of old, and step boldly into their own spiritual journey rather than let their lives pass idly by.

Rainn Wilson’s book encourages and inspires this—our generation, my generation—to get out there and tell better stories. Celebrate joy. Fight for justice and create spaces of righteousness. Build community. Embrace and teach virtues. And be radically compassionate. This isn’t just what the kids are looking for, it’s what gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

If you’re looking for a little fuel for your dwindling spiritual fire, Wilson’s book will help you feel reconnected to the human family, reunited with spiritual mothers and fathers, and reminded of the meat of the great commission—to help others become more like Jesus, the one who welcomes us into the kingdom of heaven… and gives us the building supplies to construct it.

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