Panel Discussion: interView with Barbara Rick

Posted on June 30th, 2010 | Filed under InterViews, Video

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interView with Barbara Rick

Response by Michael VanZandt Collins

The crux of Barbara Rick’s interview for me falls on the distinction between “religion” and “spirituality.” Ms. Rick has a portfolio of admirable work, most recently releasing a documentary, called In Good Conscience: Sister Gramick’s Journey of Faith, about a Catholic nun who challenges the institutional hierarchy. Speaking from a Catholic perspective, I can vouch that this film stirs up a source of frustration with which many Catholics struggle. As Ms. Rick states, she is “allergic” to the word “religion.” Again she is not alone. I can recall some of my Buddhist friends and colleagues asking, “Well, what do you really mean by ‘religion’? For that matter, what do you mean by ‘God’?” In a lecture, Michael Buckley, S.J., assented with this opinion and elaborated that “religion” is a word that is burdened with a history of misinterpretation – from its alleged followers – but it is the best we have.

It is clear from Barbara Rick’s testimony that she speaks and lives with conviction and passion. When she declares herself a changemaker, there is clearly a call of conscience. This brings up an important point. I think that the interfaith movement faces an interesting question in how it incorporates those who are “spiritual” but do not adhere to a religious practice. Must one speak from a particular source of references that are ingrained in a faith tradition?

What Rick describes seems to be an especially American quality; the striving for spiritual growth through the individual quest rather than through communal devotion. Furthermore, when religious hierarchy threatens the individuality and conscience of believers, the interfaith community can act as a place of hospice. Then, in that space can we the “frustrated” also speak “from” a tradition but not “of” it? For those who find themselves alienated and still yearning for a sense of community, there is incredible potential in interfaith work as a source of refuge.

Response by Anna DeWeese

Without having seen any of Barbara Rick’s documentaries, I had some difficulty in making a fair assessment of her comments. But there were several statements that stood out, that I found highly compelling given the context and purpose of this interview. She claims to be ‘allergic to religion’ but does believe that spirituality enhances one’s work and life, although she never fully explains just what ‘spirituality’ is for her. What struck me most was that after this statement she talks about her funding sources and how thankful she is to have had so many contributors supporting her work. At one time she uses the word ‘blessed’ to describe this financial support, and in another moment she refers to one of her patrons as an ‘angel’. I found it intriguing that someone who claims to be ‘allergic’ to religion has no problems using religious language. I found it more intriguing that these terms were employed while talking about monetary support. There is a certain amount of responsibility required in using religious language, as it has the same power to tear down as it does to build up. And the dangers of greed are all too apparent around us. I do not presume that Rick’s intent was to conflate religion or spirituality with money, but this example stands out as something to carefully consider – consider one’s language and how we express ourselves in relation to money and wealth.

Response by Anthony Paz

Although I am typically suspicious of spirituality that is separated from religion, Ms. Rick’s work, as she describes it, is appealing to me as a means of engaging in meaningful inter-religious dialogue. Perhaps because of an ‘allergy’ to any specific religious tradition, she might be able to innovatively portray differing experiences of spirituality on film. If she and her colleagues are honest and curious in their productions, they can, as outsiders, offer an extremely valuable perspective for those of us who live in our traditions. Further, film is such an important segment of discourse in our nation that her voice could potentially reach a huge audience, much larger than the kind of academic reading and writing I have done.

Indeed, issues of spirituality provide great opportunities for practitioners of different faiths to find common ground. The Dalai Lama’s singular respect for Catholic spiritual master Thomas Merton is a perfect example of the fertile ground for dialogue supplied in spirituality. Film’s deep and wide influence together with its ability to convey loads of meaning make it an exciting frontier for spiritual conversation. As long as Ms. Rick doesn’t try to transmit her distaste for organized religion to her viewers and instead can place a mirror before believers of all kinds, her work has an amazing and important role to play in our search for mutual understanding.

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