Organizing for Social Change: the Role of the Organizer

I was recently asked to write about the role of an organizer. I was excited for the opportunity as I think it’s really important to have a strong understanding of social movement knowledge and strategy.

An organizer is someone who organizes other people to engage them in their agency to oppose injustice through intentional steps of collective action by identifying a social problem, making demands to address the problem and often advocating long term for those demands.

What is agency? Is it the power, resources, hard work and ingenuity that people utilize to “do something” about their circumstances. Community is the petri dish for agency to grow. When are cut of and disparate from each other, we tend to feel helpless to change the conditions of our world. But in community we are emboldened by each other and the potential collective impact of our collective action.

What is collective action? Collective action is when people take individual action in chorus with others in a coordinated way, resulting in the building of grassroots political power.

What are we talking about when we say building political power?

The Momentum Training teaches two main views of power in social change, the monolithic view and the social view of power. In the monolithic view, the organizing targets the law makers who have the power to change the legislation and can be very successful if the law makers comply. However, if the law makers won’t comply, the social view of power relies on a base of active popular support that can utilize their collective voice to put pressure on law makers and if necessary escalate the social costs of business as usual. Engler and Lasoff state, “The difference between an issue that moves and one that does not is active popular support. This refers to the base of people who not only approve, but are willing to take action on behalf of a social movement.” (Engler/Lasoff, p. 60)

The four roles of social change are a helpful tool in understanding the role of the organizer. I first encountered this at a training in Philadelphia called Training for Change. The four roles are represented by a quadrant, the first of which is the helper. These are the people who are in the trenches of direct services and support. The second in the quadrant is the advocate, these people are not directly impacted but advocate on behalf of the directly impacted. The third is the organizer who works with people directly impacted to organize their community and speak out directly for themselves. And the fourth is the rebel who stands outside of the institutions and make their demands by protesting and disrupting oppression as they see it.

I want to be clear that organizing happens all four of these quadrants, so don’t get hung up on the name of the organizer quadrant. Sometimes it is called “change agent” It’s also possible to inhabit multiple quadrants. Someone might be a helper at church and an advocate at work. It’s possible to change quadrants over time. I identified as a rebel and came to age as an activist in anarchist, anti-capitalist and anti-racist organizing in San Francisco. But the anti-racism work that I’ve done has led me into more of the organizer quadrant. But I often find myself identifying as an advocate in relationship to that work and advocating on issues that I am not directly impacted by,  but stand as an accomplice with people who are.

The organizer has to be willing to be with people and to take part of the “multitude.” For faith-rooted organizers in the Christian tradition, Joerg Rieger’s “theology of the multitude” in his book “Occupy Religion” is a beautiful view of what God is doing through the spirit and force of people power. He views Christianity as a religion that needs to decolonize itself from empire and reposition itself with the poorest people. Rieger says, “God in Christ is a different kind of lord who is not in solidarity with the powerful but in solidarity with the lowly…. This position—at the heart of the new world proclaimed by Paul—directly contradicts the logic of the Roman Empire.”

It is one thing to be a leader and quite another to be an organizer. Organizing is a mantle that is taken up by everyday people around the world, most often who do not get paid, who take on challenging the injustices in our world.

Charlotte Uprising & the Church that Broke My Heart

One year ago Charlotte, NC lit up in a blaze of social unrest. A literal uprising, “Charlotte Uprising” was a whirlwind of engagement in mass protests of communities rising up, grieving and healing together after the police shooting of Mr. Keith Lamont Scott.

I will never forget the call that came late that night from my fiancé, a pastor who was down at the protests when shots were fired and a protester was killed. I was two hours away in Asheville but I could tell by the sound of his voice that I needed to get there. He had witnessed the shooting, but didn’t see the shooter. At the time of the incident, his immediate perception was that the shots fired had come from the police. He had been very close to the victim at the time of the shooting. Other people we talked to also perceived the shots as coming from the police line.

The next morning we went into Charlotte for an organizing meeting. We offered the use of his church at the time where he was an associate pastor. I met with a representative of local Black Lives Matter and handed over the keys to them.  What happened next was my dream of church. To me, it was like watching the kingdom of God inhabit a church. There was a full scale mobilization happening out of the church within 6 hours. Supplies were dropped off en mass, medic and first aid trainings were happening a few times a day, mass trainings and meetings, clergy events, a press conference, plus food and sleeping places for anyone who needed it.

Mobilization spaces are beautiful expressions of beloved humanity and community. It’s one of those rare times in life where we are a part of a crowd (the multitude) and have an experience of connection in community, in that liminal space that happens in trauma, when we are good to each other.

Don’t get me wrong, we can be very not good to each other at mobilizations too. We bring the pathologies and poison of the culture with us into movement spaces.  It is why we have to be so vigilant in employing de-colonizing practices in our movement spaces.

I made a mistake that week. I had been told not to allow media into the building and we had passed that along. Well, one morning I had just arrived on site at the church and was trying to make coffee happen when I was introduced to a beautiful black woman who said she was doing a story on our support mechanisms and wondered if she could see the triage area where we do medic and first aid support for the protests. I got kind of lost in the yumminess of the interaction and ended up showing her around. Just then we got a call from the BLM activists who we were working for. They heard there was a reporter in the building and they were pissed. I was able to kill her story. She deleted the photos off her phone. I did the clean up work that needed to fix my mistake. I realized how my sense of safety isn’t everyone’s experience and that a reporter, however sympathetic to the uprising, can release information publicly that can compromise movement work. Again this work pushed me up against my own privilege and assumptions about life.  I’m sorry I embraced that journalist when I agreed not to. My sense of safety and being accustoming to having the power and making decisions led me to making the wrong call in that moment.

SO what happened next was the senior leadership of my finance’s church flew back in town and showed up. The next day was, for me, the unraveling of the dream and the breaking of my heart. The senior leadership systematically shut down the church as a resource for Charlotte Uprising. The senior pastor maintained that having the Uprising at his church had hurt the reputation of the church. While this is going on, my fiancé was given an award for his work at Uprising, was included in a museum show for the same reason and was invited to be one of the grand marshalls of the MLK parade. Clearly there was a plurality of views on Uprising and how it impacted the church. It was difficult to believe that a progressive church was not fairing well post Uprising when he was receiving all this acknowledgement from the community.

But to me it’s not about how Uprising impacted the church. To me that’s the wrong question. How did the church serve the Uprising? That is the question I wish we would really rise to in Christianity. God is doing beautiful things for justice in and through the “multitude” and I really wish the church would honor that work as a divine expression and support it.

Meet the New (Black, Female) Democratic Mayoral Candidate for Charlotte, NC!

This fall I have had the pleasure of volunteering on Vi’s campaign and watching this political star rise! Vi Lyles just won the primary, unseating the current mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, as the Democratic candidate for mayor in the general election in November. Vi would be the first black female mayor in the city of Charlotte, NC.

Charlotte is facing a lot of challenges:

-A city council that has failed to maintain anti-discrimination laws for transgendered people in the face of NC State Legislature’s HB2. 

-A police force that has a steady track record of shooting unarmed people of color which resulted in Charlotte Uprising one year ago.

-People who work in Charlotte very often cannot afford to live in Charlotte.

-Charlotte has had major redistricting and redlining issues that have created poor and under-serviced areas of primarily black communities of Charlotte in the name of “urban renewal.” This has been such an issue there is a current effort to create a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to look at systemic racism in Charlotte.

I believe Vi Lyles, former assistant city manager and current mayor pro team can tackle these and a host of other challenges face.

Here is Vi’s 7 point plan from Vi Lyles.com:

Charlotte is a tale of two cities where the opportunities and tremendous growth we’ve seen have not benefitted all. Unfortunately, in many instances, a heavy burden is placed on our most vulnerable residents. We need to do better for a more equitable, just, and fair Queen City. If we truly value all of our people then we must provide opportunities for all Charlotteans to fully participate and flourish here.

I am committed to advancing the following seven proposals, more an Equitable Charlotte:

  1. Build upon a culture of trust, respect, and cooperation between CMPD and Charlotte citizens by creating community advisory groups within each Police response area.
  2. Examine the structure and procedures of the current Citizens Review Board with community members to ensure its purpose and results are building community trust. The analysis should focus on increased visibility of how citizens can become members of the board as well as complaints and board findings. The board must also better reflect the Charlotte citizenry.
  3. Explore requiring contractors that seek to do business with the City of Charlotte “Ban the Box” on employment applications.
  4. Establish a program to promote the hiring of low-income residents in projects funded with public dollars.
  5. Adopt a meaningful apprenticeship program that focuses on training and development for people with multiple barriers to employment, with a focus on a diversion program for adjudicated youth.
  6. Accelerate the Council goal to provide 5,000 units of affordable housing from five years to three years.
  7. Continue the policy to progressively increase the minimum wage for City employees to $15 an hour.

Defend DACA: Dreamers Are Our Neighbors

On Tuesday, after the announcement that DACA would be discontinued by the Trump administration, I joined hundreds others in a demonstration at Marshall Park in Charlotte, NC.  I wanted to photo document some of the signs that the many Dreamers made and displayed at the demo. Before I took each photo, I asked each person if it would be ok to take the picture. Every time the answer was yes and every time I was struck by the courageous behind their answer. The kids we call Dreamers are facing deportation, being separated from their families and being dropped into a nation and a culture that, in most cases, they have never encountered directly.  The level of heartbreak was palpable. The courage that it took to even sign up for DACA, to be on record with the federal government as having entered the US illegally, is incredible to me. But then to make a sign, to be visible and to have their photos taken to be posted at random on the internet by a stranger? It was difficult to choke back the tears that kept arising when these kids consented to their photograph being taken. I told them they were beautiful and that they were speaking a powerful truth. If they can take the risk to stand up and speak for themselves, shouldn’t we as legal citizens be willing to risk speaking up, sacrificing our comfort, our money and our spare bedrooms to be there for the Dreamers. Perhaps we can intentionally go out of our way to support these kids.

I encourage you to view the images below mindfully. Do so in silence and take the time to really see and absorb their messages. Make it a meditation, feel the pain and the fear they are facing. Let it move you to take action. The time is now.

Love Stands in Solidarity

love-handI wrote this as part of a messaging campaign inspired by Brian McLaren called We Stand with Love, seeking to counter the hateful rhetoric of the presidential election cycle with intentional loving action.  This post first appeared here.

“Justice is what love looks like in public.” -Cornell West

Our contemplative tradition in Christianity teaches us how to extend our range of awareness beyond our family, our friends, and our community. The practice builds our capacity to extend our compassion to the suffering of those we have not and will never meet. This practice rebuilds our awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. And within that deep interconnectedness we find solidarity with the pain of the world.

Solidarity can be defined as “unity born of mutual interest.” As people of faith we are uniquely equipped with the inner and contemplative tools to expand our capacity to discover and live into a mutual interest for the liberation of the most vulnerable and oppressed. But the Church is so often silent to the suffering of those outside of our four walls because we aren’t doing our inner work, so we’ve lost touch with the wider Body of Christ.

The disease that is so talked about in the Bible, leprosy, is the decay that happens when we can’t feel parts of the body. Our culture and our Church has leprosy, and it is systemic. Oppression is systemic and structural so in order to stand in solidarity we need to love systemically and love structurally. May we make that commitment again each day to stand with Love.

Holly Roach curates the contemplative track at Wild Goose Festival and produces a day-long, pre-festival event called Mystic Action Camp that brings elder contemplative teachers together with social change practitioners. Holly is a long-time activist and is throwing all of her being into countering Trump with Love this fall.

How to be a Christian When Men Aren’t Safe

Jesus who Forgave the Oppressor. Jesus who sets free the Oppressed. Jesus who sets things right. Jesus who Forgave the Oppressor. Jesus who sets free the Oppressed. Jesus who sets things right. Painting by Bec Cranford-Smith

I’ve been doing yoga therapy lately. In simplistic terms it’s a kind of counseling that takes the body along for the ride.  In these sessions I have been uncovering beliefs that I have held about men. It’s pretty much all borne from an oppressive and abusive father. But in the journey it’s also uncovered mean boys from my youth, the man who raped me and the boyfriends who broke my heart. It all leads to the same kind of message; men aren’t safe.

So I’ve been wondering, how exactly do I give myself over to a kenotic path led and modeled by a man?  I don’t subscribe to a view of God as strictly gendered as male. This has never been something I have been comfortable doing. I have always been drawn to a father/mother view of God. So how does one, like me, who has constant programming running about how men aren’t safe, follow the lead of a spiritual embodiment of God who inhabited a male body.

Is my love of Jesus just a fairytale of what a man could be (and never has been in my actual life) and how could I follow the teachings of a man when men aren’t safe?  Is my love of Jesus a dream of a man without an ego, a longing for a human man that embodies a gentleness and a deep caring for the marginalized and oppressed? Is this just the dream of a little girl longing for the love of a father that could never be? Part of myself would say yes. But the mystic in me holds space for the possibility of something I’ve not yet experienced, the love of a man that is unconditional.

I want to believe that Jesus was a man with an ego who found a contemplative path that led him to surrendering egoic thought in favor of divine connection. And that divine connection was what made Jesus, the man, the savior the world believes him to be. I want to walk that path and I want to be like him. But this challenges my belief that men aren’t safe. If I choose a path emulating a spiritual teacher who was a man, how can I continue to believe men to be unsafe?

Maybe the distinction I need to make is that egoic thought is unsafe and perhaps I need to leave gender out of it? What do you think? I’d love your thoughts.

CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM: AN OUTFLOW OF THE BROKEN HEART

contemplation“Justice is the outflow of the broken heart.” James Finley

I have been an activist longer than I have been a Christian. I always get a laugh when I say that I broke up with Jesus in high school. But like any break up, it was painful and losing my faith was no party. Fast forward 20 years of activism and I found myself having a “dark night of the soul” and grieving my mother after her passing. During that time a friend gave me a book by Rob Bell and I encountered another kind of Christianity, one I felt I could be a part of again. I called my sister in tears and said, “Jen, I think I can call myself a Christian again.” She replied, “Honey, you have always been a Christian, you just let other people define that for you.” It was as if no wiser words had ever been said. And that marked the beginning of my quest to find healthy expressions of Christianity in the world that I could join in on.

So, I spent the next year tracking the Emergent Church Conversation. If you aren’t familiar with it, the Emergent Church includes such authors as Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle and Tony Jones. It’s a post-modern church movement that allowed space for doubt and the deconstruction of faith. But a movement can only deconstruct so long before it tears itself apart, so eventually it’s light and influence waned. Many of us have since found the contemplative lens and theory of spiral dynamics, but some among us deconstructed themselves right out of their own faith and became secular humanists and atheists. For me, the Emergent Church version of Christianity led to me to being able to integrate my faith and my activism.

So when I encountered Living School, I had lost and rekindled my Christian faith, and had integrated my activism and faith intellectually. I had even started a Bible study and two of the folks from this group moved into my house. We were having a bit of a beloved community experience, but it was the practices and contemplative framework that the Living School gave me that actually integrated my faith and activism.

I admittedly come to this work on the action end of the spectrum. Most often contemplative teachings come from the lens of the inner experience. But Rohr taught in our most recent Living School module on Prophecy and Justice, that contemplatives don’t always start from the inner experience, but often come to the practice seeking healing from having been in struggles against oppression in the world. He said that many people who, “enter into the pain of society, have to go to God to find rest for the soul.” I am one of those souls who came to the contemplative practice weary and needing renewal in order to keep working for justice.

So, I come to the practice through action in the external world. Namely, when my action is not reflecting, nor in alignment with my faith, engaging in contemplative practice enables me to manage my inner state which then results in my increased ability to choose better action. My inner experience also heals and renews me and readies me to continue on in my work with justice movements.

I’d like to share a few ways that the contemplative has changed my activism and made me a better activist.

1. Waking up to the Body
Just five years ago, if we were somehow able to round up all the oppressors (the target of your justice campaign) and those complicit in systemics of violence and put them all on an island, drop a nuclear bomb on that island, I would have been fine with that. And I would have thought the world a better place because it. Not anymore.

The contemplative has given me a feeling for the oppressor where I was once numb to their humanity. My mentor, Rev Alexia Salvatierra, teaches about how leprosy, a disease referenced often by Jesus in the Bible, is an affliction where the person is unable to feel pain in parts of their body or acknowledge the wounds festering there. She says that as the body of Christ, we have leprosy if we don’t feel the pain present in the human experience that we are not directly affected by. So, by this definition, I had leprosy and was unwilling to face the pain of the oppressors in the world.

2. Dove and Serpent Power
My mentor, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, teaches about dove and serpent power (from Matthew 10:16) in her book “Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World.” She teaches that dove power is seeing the divine in the oppressor and inviting them to operate from that place. To invoke dove power in an opponent in social justice work is to invite them to make decisions from their own divinely connected self. You have to see the opponent as their divinely connected self and then hold them to it.

When it comes to opposing systems of oppression we have to look for the people upholding those systems, see their divinely connected self, call upon them to divest from the system upholding oppression and love them through the transition.

So, this work becomes about being in relationship with oppressors so that perhaps, through being in relationship with a transformative movement, God can transform their hearts. Where I once sought to cut out the oppressor, I now seek to love and transform them. By being able to sit with accept my own pain, through contemplative practice, I have an increased ability to sit with and accept oppression. This ability to sit in acceptance has given me a vantage point where I can see the humanity in the perpetrator of acts of violence and oppression.

Rev. Salvatierra also teaches about harnessing the power of the serpent. She teaches that to engage serpent power is to accept the shadow side of human nature, to anticipate and to plan for it. So, while the work is to hold the divinity of the oppressor, to get there, you have to first accept the serpent nature of the oppressor (and let’s not forget the serpent nature of ourselves). But serpent power is always coupled with dove power – where we simultaneously acknowledge and accept the shadow in the other (serpent power) while calling forth the divine self (dove power) of the oppressor, ultimately seeking to transform them and their actions.

3. The Inner Witness
Numerous contemplative traditions speak to the ability of the (contemplative) practice to strengthen the presence of the “inner witness.” By developing the inner witness, one has the ability to monitor the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and impulses of the inner experience and the subsequent ability to choose how to respond, without being ruled by the egoic self.

This inner witness has helped me to become aware of my motivations. One dilemma is discerning the difference between a kairos moment and a need of the ego. A kairos moment is a moment of God’s truth being expressed through human consciousness. Perhaps you know this moment. This is the moment when we can’t not [note to editor: italicize or bold] speak up, because to fail to do so would be to limit the power of truth coming through us. In the Christian tradition, this is the prophetic voice, which sees the world as it is in relationship to how it could be (the kingdom of God), and the call to action to transform it.

The inner witness has the ability to discern between the voice of ego, the need for acknowledgement, acceptance, or to assert power or dominance, and the voice of the kairos moment.

4. The Ability to Wait and Discern
A major change to my activism is the contemplative posture that allows me to wait. When a pathway is blocked I learned to allow spirit, time and circumstances to change, rather than busting through obstacles, which often mirrors the violence and oppression that we seek to heal. Rev Dr William Barber, founder and architect of the Moral Monday/Forward Together Movement in North Carolina, says that to do this work we need to, “…leave a screw loose,” to leave room for the Holy Spirit to move in and among us in our work for justice. Waiting is one way that I leave room for spirit to move in and inform my activism.

5. The Willingness to be Wrong
Social change is full of difference. Different kinds of people, cultures, communities, tactics, theories of change, strategies and methods. The left is always getting hammered for the exent of in-fighting and intolerance to difference exhibited in different leftists movements. This pervasive challenge on the left is largely due to the ego’s dislike and perceived threat when faced with great plurality.

So the contemplative practice is such a wonderful tool for limiting our identification with ego and our ability to notice the impulses of the ego while not giving voice to it. With the ego in check I can exhibit a willingness to be wrong. I can say what I think, but I can also get out of the way and try a new way because being wrong is no longer the worst thing that can happen. With this posture the world becomes a laboratory and every act is an experiment or pehaps an adventure. We learn something each time and being wrong is often part of that experience. But without the investment of ego, being wrong is simply another lesson and opportunity for growth. This is an area I can see contemplative activism being an agent of resolution and peace in our justice movements.

6. Non-Attachment to the Outcome
Activists are highly attatched people and I come to contemplative practice deeply attached to creating outcomes. I wish to see black lives matter in the world. I wish to see corporations and Wall Street be held accountable for their contributions to economic inequality. I am very attached to people making a fair, living wage so when people work full time, they can feed their families and live a good life. I want to see young black men in hoodies, full of possibility of what they can achieve in life, rather than fearing for that very life. I am full of attachment!!

The emotions of attachment fuel the false self and, so, while our hearts may be aching, it’s critical to release the addictive thinking of attachment to outcome. Implicit in attachment is the bias that we know what is right and how to get there. So while our prayers and actions may all be lined up to enact a particular change in the world, we need to “leave a screw loose” and leave room for the Spirit to work. And perhaps the outcome will be greater than we planned. When we live a surrendered life to the will of God, we do what we can as we are called and leave the rest to him.

We are all called to rise in this place and time in history, as people of faith and love and contemplative hearts. We are called to be voices for the oppressed and speak love and grace into the hearts of oppressors. We have the unique tools and skills, which allow us to fight our own egos as much as we fight for justice in the world – with grace and mercy for all God’s creations, both those that generate and those that destroy.

We are a world hurting and wounded seeking transformation. The contemplative tradition and contemplative practice can speak into that hurting in the world with a new-ancient lens–one that can strengthen activist movements, love those that wound while adamantly seeking to change them, and craft a contemplative activism that is desperately needed.

This is a New-Wave of innocence, or as Father Richard calls it a “regained innocence.” It is a reclaimed innocence. We choose to find the loving and cleansed heart of a child with the knowing and unknowing of having come out of the hurts of the world seeking wisdom and transformation,

Let us reclaim our innocence. Let us rise together. Let us embody Contemplative Activism for a world desperately crying for it’s presence. We can hold the tension of the Serpent and the Dove in equal measure–we can see the shadow side and false self in ourselves and others and hold it with open hands and open hearts.

How White People Need to Talk to White People About Race (and Why)

11295935_10152781809716363_8945463482166101151_n-2Last night we had a live stream conversation on YouTube about “How White People Need to Talk to White People About Race.” Over 400 people RSVP’d on the Facebook event, which is a much larger audience than we have ever reached in our monthly Open Conversations.  During the video we had over 250 views, social media engagement was really strong and it has been shared and viewed widely.  This makes me think that white people are really struggling to talk about race.  I invite you to scroll down and watch the video below and share what you think in the comment section below. 

This is how we billed the event.

Transform Network Open Conversation on white (identifying) people talking to other white people about race and racial justice. Have you as a white person. . . .
+ Felt unsure, insensitive, confused and scared during conversations about race?

+ Felt like, “Hey, I’m not racist!” Why do I get lumped in with “all white people?”

+ Want to talk about race, racial justice, ask questions and even get involved in bringing about change but have no clue what that really means or how to start?

+ Feel passionate about racial justice but get frustrated talking to other white people about it?

As a person of color. . . . .
+Get frustrated being the “racial counselor” to white friends, colleagues or church?

+Want to have more productive interactions in mixed race groups when discussing racial justice?

Transform Network has always been focused on taking on big growing edge issues faced by church and creating a safe place for people to express doubts and practice generative community. We are one of the only progressive church networks actively engaging in training around anti-oppression and intersectionality.

As Christians, we believe racial justice is just one aspect of God’s vision of shalom for the world – that people of all races, ethnicities and people groups are recognized, valued and seen as equally precious parts of the Divine’s beloved creation.

Panelists include:

Dara Silverman – consultant, coach, organizer and trainer who has been building movements for economic, racial, gender and social justice for over 20 years. Dara is the National Coordinator for SURJ: Showing Up for Racial Justice, a network of 55+ groups across the US moving white people into action for racial justice. Dara was the Executive Director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in New York City from 2003-2009. Dara is a certified Somatic Coach through the Strozzi Institute. She supports leaders to be in the movement for the long haul.

Holly Roach – a contemplavist with her activist roots in numerous social justice movements including the struggles for Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Big Mountain, AZ and the Global Justice movement. Holly has a bachelors degree in art and social change and graduating from the inaugural class of Richard Rohr’s Living School for Action and Contemplation this fall. She is an organizer for the Faith-Rooted Organziing Un-Network and mentored by Rev. Alexia Salvaterra. Holly is president of the board of Transform Network and producer of the it’s annual national gathering. Holly is a practicing writer and contemplative and “mother-of-dogs” to over 200 pounds of dogs.

Jake Dockter – one of the editors behind Theology of Ferguson, an activist in Portland, and dreamer. He was worked in the nonprofit and creative space for years, helping launch and consult brands and projects. He edited a book, American Dreamers (published by Wieden+Kennedy: Sharp Stuff), and was a columnist for Relevant Magazine’s social justice column, The Revolution. He is a dad and husband, loving every minute of family time.

Chris Crass -writes and speaks widely on anti-racist organizing, feminism for men, strategies to build visionary movements, and creating healthy culture and leadership for progressive activism. His book Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement building strategy draws lessons from his organizing over the past 26 years with groups such as Catalyst Project, Heads Up Collective, and SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice). Rooted in his Unitarian Universalist faith he works with congregations, divinity schools, and religious leaders to build up the spiritual Left. He lives in Nashville, TN with his partner and their son. You can learn more about his work at www.chriscrass.org.

Hosted by Micky ScottBey Jones, Director of Training & Development of Transform Network

A Conversation on New Wave Emergence from Emerging Voices on Patheos Progressive Christian Portal

imageresizer.html Tomorrow Father Richard Rohr will be joining us with his inaugural post on Emerging Voices. Holly and Teresa are both formal students of Father Rohr in his Living School for Action and Contemplation. But many of us in the community are greatly influenced by his work and teachings. You have the opportunity to view a conversation between Father Rohr and Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday February 8th. It is rare for a Franciscan and contemplative, an order always on the fringes of Catholoicism, to have access to this large of a platform to speak to an entire nation. By nature, Franciscans are wary of “bigness,” but we take this as a sign that the broader culture is hungry for spiritual practice and wisdom. We are delighted to see Father Rohr on television and appreciate his willingness to step out and teach contemplative spirituality to the mainstream culture.

There seems to be a moment in every story, where things have to change in order to move forward. We see moments in history in all movements and paradigms where new life needs to bloom and, in response to this need, fresh ingredients come together — to transform life and community into a new manifestation of what came before. This is why humanity and its lexicon created terms like “paradigm shift” and “new wave” in movements. Like the shifting of terra, the tectonic plates of culture and society have to move to accommodate changes in the earth’s structure. Into this space, we at Emerging Voices and other voices emerging from progressive Christianity have begun to speak, contemplate, and act into this new space of the progressive and emergent conversation.

Teresa Pasquale: My work as a therapist has historically been to provide space and planning around the individual experience of these emotionally tectonic shifts. I have been trained to see the spaces where transformation is possible in a human life and to help identify that moment for people. Then my role is to hold the door open long enough for my clients to see the narrow gate of healing, and walk through it. However, in therapy as much as in community, walking through the open door is always a choice. We all have the choice to move through the difficult, dark, and broken places into the light of a new wave of life. We all, also, have the choice to stand still, if we want.

In the recent years, I have begun learning that this potential for transformation is equally possible, and equally complex, in community groups and movements. In the last year or so, I have brought my work of individualized healing and transformation into the context of community — namely this community of shared faith and hope and grace that is Emergence. It has been powerful work, and I have been humbled by the content and heart of the struggles I find in community with emergent folks, as well as the powerfully difficult task in front of all of us — to walk through the “narrow gate” or not.

For the last couple of semesters in my social work classes, I have spoken with my students about something I have been calling a “New Wave of Civil Rights.” This new wave has been showing up in the Progressive Christian movement and beyond in such places as the Forward Together Moral Movement, LGBTQ Equality, and Black Lives Matter.  What I’m coming to realize, as a person, as a therapist, as a fumbling contemplative speaking into emergence, is that the Emergent Church community has an opportunity to catch — and participate in — this very same wave.

What defines this new wave?

Teresa: It is grounded in action and contemplation. This dynamism between inner and outer life forms the cornerstone of my own theology as I have learned it from master teachers such as (but not exclusively) Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, the late Marcus Borg, Thomas Merton, and Brian McLaren. Their teachings and understandings of the nondual way of pairing action and contemplation exemplify the ancient-future truths spoken ages ago by mystics (also known as contemplatives) like Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Sienna, Meister Eckhart, and John of the Cross. It is the timeless ownership of beloved community embodied in the lives of contemplative actioners like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, and Dorothy Day. It is the work of reconciliation done by people like Desmond Tutu, Thich Naht Hanh, and Nelson Mandela. It is the healing work of people like Bessel van der Kolk, Brene Brown, Gabor Mate, Pat Ogden, and Peter Levine.

This new wave, as I see it, moves beyond woundedness. It honors and acknowledges sacred wounds, but it promises the potential for healing on the other side of hurt and the capacity for transformation in every human life — because being hurt is not the point. God wants us to be whole. Healing is the process, and wholeness is the point. And we are made to heal. The power of contemporary science is that it validates everything the universe and its inhabitants, on our best of days, have intuitively known to be true — that we all have the capacity to heal. We all have the right, as autonomous beings, to live in hurt and rage in perpetuity, if we so choose. But we do so consciously, eyes-open, with the knowledge that there is transformation beyond hurt. We don’t heal in lieu of justice but because the most transformed version of justice — for abuse, trauma, racism, sexism, homophobia — only comes from the transformed heart.

Holly Roach: New-wave emergents are missional community developers; they are faith-rooted organizers, contemplatives, theologians, teachers, and activists. New-wave emergent folks have deconstructed church and are now left wanting to create alternatives, to be the church they wish to see in the world, to embody the answers to our struggles in real and lived out ways. New waves are influenced by voices from the margins. New-wave emergents are bridge-builders in addition to being relational-bonders. New-wave emergents are LGBTQ-inclusive and engaged in dismantling prejudices in their own persons. New-wave emergents have moved beyond critiquing the hegemony of white cisgendered persistently at the center of conversations to creating spaces where the center is filled with voices from the margins. Thus new-wave emergents are passionate about justice and see dialogue, action, and reflection as integral pieces of a holistic effort. New-wave emergents are both pre-figurative and strategic. They are plotting for goodness while already living as best they can here and now — as if the kingdom has already come, “on Earth as in Heaven.” New waves embrace the rich tapestry of liberation theologies, and continue to surprise and invert the entrenched hierarchies of church.

Robyn Henderson-Espinoza: New-wavers are not just thinking or intellectualizing in a postmodern framework, they are striving to practice and adopt postmodern behaviors, an orientation that seeks to destabilize and disrupt systems that are death-bringing. New-wavers are less interested in arguing on Facebook than sitting in respectful dialogue where opposing dualities are both honored and heard.  New-wavers are about seeking to move beyond the oppositionality of “liberal” and “conservative” to help bring about a truly radical community of liberation for all.

What are the advantages of maintaining threads of connection from the new wave to the old wave from which it emerged?

Steve Knight: People who have been hurt by the founding generation of the Emergent movement often proclaim that the new wave needs to completely disassociate from Emergence Christianity. I see it differently. I believe deeply that, in order to know our movement DNA, we need to learn from both our wins and losses, to site our examples, tell our stories and know where we come from. Spiral Dynamics instructs us to “transcend and include,” like the evolution of DNA, movements need the base material of what made us with the ever-motivating pull of doing it better.

Mike Morrell: One of my favorite living Christian spiritual teachers, Cynthia Bourgeault, teaches this concept called the Law of Three. It’s too much to give full justice to in this space, but the upshot — the “so what?” factor — is this:

There are always more than just binaries at play. Our current narrative and frequent experience is, two sides become locked in a kind of dualistic rivalry. But what the Law of Three proposes is that, if we cultivate a carefully attuned awareness, we’ll recognize that there’s always a third, (as Bourgeault says) “reconciling force, or energy, [that] emerges as a totally independent force out of a capacity to hold these opposites.”

It’s not merely a synthesis, like in Hegelian dialectic, but a genuine “third force” — of novelty and truly fresh perspective. This third force doesn’t invalidate first and second forces — the two that find themselves opposing each other. Instead, third force redeems these, by showing a higher purpose they were serving all along.

Keeping this in mind (and truly, there’s a lot more to it) has helped me see seemingly intractable conflicts in a new light. It puts flesh on the bones of Richard Rohr’s idea that everything belongs, including — especially! — the things I don’t like. I find, on the other side, that my enemy is actually my ally in disguise.

Holly: I love the way Brian McLaren called upon the church to repentance for 20 centuries of crimes, then ceded his time to Navajo Mark Charles at Christianity 21 featured in the video below. And I love the way Jacqui Lewis, of Middle Church in NYC, says, “I am dreaming of a church that is activated to dismantle racism, because I think we can.” It’s critical to celebrate and lift up our wins in the movement. These statements from main stage at C21 exemplify the shift we are trying to describe here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fe1FP2fNeY [/youtube]

Teresa: Into this space we breathe this new wave of emergence, emerging. Welcome to the revolution. It is action and contemplation birthing something new, which is also the most ancient thing of all. We are living into the birthplace of ancient-future faith. It is a revolution born of dancing, and like the adage (once attributed to Gloria Steinem but actually from Emma Goldman) we speak loudly into the space of possibility, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution!”

In summary: It is our choice. Each one of us. We can move into a New Wave of Emergence. With this we have the opportunity to move into what is emerging and possible beyond the binary state of critique, rage, and hurt into a space of hope and healing. Powerful justice comes from this place. Powerful reconciliation is born out of this freedom. It IS our choice, each one of us. The work is still hard and the road is still long, but it is  built on the foundation of transformative hope and healing action, given to us by teachers of generations ago and present day who have and are living life that matters from a place of healing and possibility.  As a postmodern movement we have the posture and practices to be able to hold the tensions of the most painful dualities.  Is that not the work of ministry?  Our movement can hold, love and transform woundedness. So no one has to be excluded. That is the work if we only choose to engage it.

Nesting Duality in Wholeness

god-is-not-a-white-manI am a second year student in the Living School, studying with Father Richard Rohr who teaches about non-dual consciousness.  This is a concept I have been familiar with since high school. I have studied and experienced non-dual consciousness in pagan, Buddhist, and new age traditions. Before I came to the Living School, I had not encountered it in the Christian tradition (though as a kid, I had what Rohr would call unitive consciousness experiences in church – always with music.)

Long story short, I broke up with Jesus in high school in solidarity with my gay and Muslim friends. Flash forward 20 years and my mom died. It was really sad. And somewhere in the depth of the dark night of my soul, in all the grief, came a white light that lifted me out and I knew it be what my mom had always called the white light of Christ (something she would evoke when we were scared as kids.)

When I first came back to having my heart really affected by the Christian tradition, I sought out my college mentors, Bill & Karen Thompson, formerly of the United Christian Fellowship Campus Ministry at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. They are both Lutheran pastors who have been radicalized by mentoring and journeying young people all throughout their careers.

I visited my family in Ohio and drove down to B.G. and visit with them at their house. I felt pretty desperate when asking them for advice with the tensions I was holding and my faith which felt brittle at that time. My question was about reconciling the personal and impersonal god. Here I had been relating to god as the universe, as oneness or great spirit with more of a pantheist paradigm for the past 20 years. And having just lost my mom with some kind of spiritual cleansing going on that was centered this this awakened heart I had for JC – being called into a spiritual relationship. It was just weird to me.

So I asked.

Karen was so wise. She said, “In the spiritual realm, can you imagine that two opposing things could somehow both be true?” I thought about it said, “Yes, I can imagine that.” She smiled and said, “Holly, you are a people person. You love relationships. You are wired for a personal god.” This flipped a switch in me and I suddenly saw the reconciliation of this duality enfolding before me. It wasn’t that we were to negate the existence of either side, but to acknowledge each of their roles in the whole. I began to see the personal/impersonal god duality in the context of a larger system, or, the whole.

Isn’t God powerful enough to be revealed in various traditions, for the extrovert and the introverts among us? Isn’t God powerful enough to reveal herself in a variety of ways to meet the diversity and myriad of human wiring? In fact, if God has such a heart for humanity, wouldn’t the personal God pretty much have to be able to encompass all dualities? Therein lies my frustration about all the arguing about God!

I think when we nest a duality in the context of a larger system, we can see how the dualities fit together purposely. I am working on applying this system shift perspective into my activism. I am super influenced by the Living Systems work I have been learning from Pamela Wilhelms. It’s amazing how nature’s practices and spiritual principles mirror each other. I will try to do some blogging about living systems soon.

 

 

 

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