Santa Cruz, it has just recently occurred to me, means Holy Cross. Santa Cruz also happens to be
the site for a conference I am attending on socially minded business—that is, companies that
seek to address the predicaments of human life across our planet. These companies address food scarcities and water shortages and digital divides and wealth inequities with the kind of creativity and practicality that, for me anyway, is pretty hard not to applaud. Santa Cruz has been more than a city with an enviable climate and 1200-year-old trees. It’s occasioned a moving encounter with organizations committed to human flourishing. But it’s also been for me a site to mull over connections and disconnections between well-intentioned problem-solving and the holy cross of Christ.
Perhaps because the conference I am attending is called Conscious Companies, the planners and attenders exhibit a powerfully spiritual vibe. No kidding, they are luminous and supple human beings: put-together, hard-working, physically fit, and thoughtfully dressed. They laugh readily. They speak openly about their own failures. They are in touch with the place and the people around them. And they care about the world and the future of endangered peoples.
As an academic, I have been to a lot of conferences that feel alienating. But this one is
conspicuously different. It’s full of people whose faces are open and whose habits are
welcoming. Everybody greets each other—sometimes with hugs—as if, well, as if this were
Interestingly, this multiversity campus, as they call it, used to be a Bible college. There’s an
open-air cathedral out back, a set of pews underneath the redwoods, where I sat one afternoon
thinking about all those long-ago undergraduate chapel services.
I dunno: maybe some of these Conscious Company peeps are churchgoers. I wouldn’t be
surprised; Jesus has his people everywhere. And there’s some attention to a Higher Power in all
the conversations of this conference. There’s a lot of talk about What the Universe Wants,
although this cosmic wanting seems impersonal except to the degree that it’s a stand-in for the
self. In fact, there’s a great deal of concern for knowing yourself and having compassion for
yourself (both of which tasks I find extremely difficult, by the way). But not surprisingly in this
pluralistic setting, I haven’t heard much mention of the Church, except perhaps when a presenter
commented that social business today offers the kind of hope that we used to find in religion.
Yesterday, during a feverish texting exchange with a colleague from Trinity College, I was
talking about all this stuff, and my colleague started asking questions like this: How might the
Church have let these people down? Why doesn’t the Church seem to more people like the hope of the world? What is it about the Church that doesn’t seem to address what this wifty
spirituality does? I confess that I do feel skeptical about all the meditation pillows and amulets
I’m seeing at this conference. It all reminds of me of the book of Colossians again, and the
warning against things that have an appearance of wisdom but aren’t much help against self-
indulgence, individually or collectively.
But all this spiritual practice conjoined to a passionate quest for justice in the world does make
me wonder how our congregation might make more visible the real but inconspicuous goods of
the Kingdom of God to our neighbors, our families, our co-workers, our communities. We do
some of it already, especially as we offer a generous welcome to people who come through our
doors. But how might we offer an even more profound compassion and a sharper concern for
justice in our towns—not because we are put-together and admirable humans, but because
extending transformative love—perhaps, yes, through very practical social problem-solving—is
our way to ponder and participate in the work of the Living God on the holy cross?