Re-enchanting the Activist – Review
Re-enchanting the Activist: Spirituality and Social Change, by Keith Hebden, November 2016. Jessica Kingsley, 176 pages, ISBN 1785920413. RRP £8.99 (paperback)
“So much trouble in the world,” Bob Marley is lamenting through my iPhone earbuds, while those headlines on the newspaper kiosk are screaming horrible, horrible things. Organ harvesting. Human trafficking. Melting ice caps. Polluted rivers. Syria. It’s hard not to feel slightly sick all the time with anxiety for God’s broken world. Despite passionate rallying behind the marches and the protests and the campaigns, it seems occasionally that the only possible rational action is simply to crawl under the duvet and to block everyone on Facebook, hollowed out like a very dis-enchanted activist. Yes, I feel like giving up sometimes: surely I can’t be the only one?
Keith Hebden’s practical guide for getting back your mojo takes as its starting point the need to draw fresh energy for the task of building the Kingdom. That word “practical” might at first glance seem at odds with the airy-fairiness of the book’s subtitle, “re-enchanting the Activist”. After all, “enchantment” and “practical” are from two different lexical subsets, yes? Hmmm…well, no, not in this case, because Hebden enjoys taking an anarchic blowtorch to the two terms. He welds practical activism to contemplative mysticism – or, at least, mysticism in Dorothee Soelle’s sense that “mysticism is resistance”. Whereas Hebden’s previous book Seeking Justice had presented Jesus primarily as an organiser and activist with a mostly social role, Re-enchanting the Activist tackles the roots of Jesus’s vision as a refreshing source of pure spring water to quench and revive the activist’s thirsty soul.
Pointing out recent research that the human body is an ecosystem in its own right – we’re all 100% pure genetic material the moment before birth; by the time we’re physically mature we are 90% symbiotic bacteria – Hebden urges taking the time to plunge into fundamental being. Since the idea of being 90% microbial fauna makes nonsense of the classic mind/body split, Hebden advises getting to know better the source of many unaccountable tastes, appetites and desires. Breathe in. Take off your shoes and feel the earth pulsing beneath your feet. Lie down and imagine your body decomposing. Along the way, keep dancing – which is to say, in Hebden’s analogy, reconfigure always the relational shapes between the dancers to express “the God of the gaps”.
One of the strongest elements of the book is the author’s own anecdotal experience. A picture clearly emerges of a clever, laughing, rather defiant little boy who becomes a man possessed of strong moral purpose and a determination to keep on pushing at those boundaries. It is written in an accessible, up-to-the-minute style (blogger Jack Monroe and Buzzfeed are both cited) although grammar pedants <ouch> should beware that, sadly, some sentences do end in prepositions.
Nevertheless, Green Christians of all persuasions will find something of interest in Hebden’s account. I certainly did; after reading the first chapter I bought a copy for a dear friend in sore need of re-enchantment. After reading the second chapter, I ordered more. The book comes highly recommended and – even better – dog-eared.
Dr Hellen Giblin-Jowett FRSA