Re-enchanting the Activist - book review

By Savi Hensman
March 13, 2017

Re-enchanting the Activist: Spirituality and Social Change by Keith Hebden, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2016; £8.99

Concern about justice and the plight of those who suffer can lead people into a whirlwind of activity. Caring and struggling are important. But, unless we have space to reflect and support to do so, we can burn out or do more harm than good.

In this thoughtful, engaging and sometimes entertaining book, Keith Hebden looks at how activists seeking a better world can draw on spiritual resources. While the author (an Ekklesia associate) is a Christian priest, the book is aimed at people of all faiths and none.

Drawing on his and others’ experience, he looks at the practical challenges of living compassionately, and at ancient and more recent practices which may help. These can lead to a deeper connection with others and coming to terms with aspects of oneself which one may find difficult.

The words ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ can be understood in various ways and the author takes aim at some of these. He also concisely but frankly describes the way God’s name has been used to justify oppression and violence.

At the same time he taps into a deep knowledge of Christianity (he is the director of the Urban Theology Union) and other faiths, including Buddhism. From mindful breathing to telling stories, fasting to walking barefoot, he describes a range of ways to be ‘re-enchanted’, bringing together activism and mysticism.

At times I found myself questioning aspects of his approach. I think he too easily writes off the evangelical tradition as being about religion as a matter of private piety. But an intense sense of being personally loved and valued by God (common among, though not unique to, evangelicals) has often helped people to resist injustice. I would suggest too that some forms of meditation may be best done with an experienced mentor to hand, in case disturbing feelings surface.

I also wondered whether his call to make friends with death, so to speak, oversimplified the process of letting go of life. Indeed everyone must die, and coming to terms with mortality can be spiritually and psychologically valuable. Yet surely the fact that so many die prematurely due to extreme poverty, preventable sickness or the brutality of war deserves anger, protest and loud lament?

However, the very fact that Re-enchanting the Activist prompted me to think more deeply was of value. If I had read it in a group, it would have been an excellent way to start conversations about important issues.

Whether you are a seasoned activist or newly involved in protesting against injustice, deeply religious or just curious about faith, this highly readable book is likely to be of interest.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.