The Metta Center Roadmap: An Evaluation

newmandala1An organizer I hold in high regard recently asked me my opinion about the Metta Center for Nonviolence Roadmap. Following is my response.

Founded by Michael Nagler, the Metta Center’s  mission is:

to promote the transition to a nonviolent future by making the logic, history and yet-unexplored potential of nonviolence more accessible to activists and agents of cultural change (which ultimately includes all of us). We help people in any walk of life discover their innate capacity for nonviolence and use it more strategically for long-term transformation of themselves and the world, focusing on the root causes (sometimes called “upstream” causes) of injustice, competition and violence. Ultimately we work to replace the prevailing worldview with one that rests upon a much higher image of the human being, a world informed by nonviolence and the sanctity of all life.

Their website affirms Six Principles of Nonviolence:

1. Respect everyone – including yourself. The more we respect others, the more effectively we can persuade them to change….

2. Always include ‘Constructive Programme’. Concrete action is always more powerful than mere symbolism, especially when that concrete action is constructive: setting up schools, cottage industries, cooperative farms, etc….

3. Be aware of the long term. Nonviolent action always has positive results, sometimes more than we intended….

4. Look for “win/win” solutions that will satisfy the real needs of all parties. Remember that you are trying to rebuild relationships, if at all possible, not score “victories.”…

5. Use Power Carefully. We are conditioned (especially in the West) to think that power “grows out of the barrel of a gun.” There is indeed a kind of power that comes from threats and brute force – but it is powerless if we refuse to comply with them. There is another kind of power that comes from truth….

6. Claim our Legacy. Nonviolence no longer needs to take place in a vacuum. To know the history of the many nonviolent movements we referred to at the beginning, and be in touch with others involved in similar efforts today, can be very helpful (see our website for resources)….

The center’s key tool is the Roadmap, a graphic with three concentric circles. At the center is Person Power. The second circle is Constructive Program and the outer circle is Nonviolent Resistance (Satyagraha). The outer circle is divided into six categories:

  • New Story Creation
  • Peace
  • Democracy and Social Justice
  • Vibrant and Need-based Economies
  • Climate Protection
  • Environment

Each of those categories has three proposed projects within the corresponding Constructive Program section.

My comment on the Roadmap included the following:

I highly value Michael’s work and like the Roadmap, which I see as integrating the personal, the social, and the political. However, if [you] were to formally integrate your work into the Roadmap, I would suggest supplementing, modifying, or clarifying it with three elements:

1) Compose a New Story that articulates the need to reform “the system,” which consists of all our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals (who reinforce the system). As such, that New Story would address more than [those six categories]. It would also address, for example, Education, Media, and Religion. Understanding “the system” helps to avoid demonizing and scapegoating “enemies.”

2) With regard to Person Power, develop a tool that small support groups could use, perhaps in monthly dinner meetings, to support one another in their self-development. To my mind, AA offers a model, though I find it too complicated. A simple, easy-to-learn structure/format/method that activists could quickly use to conduct member-run groups could be easily replicated and widely adopted. The idea is that the group’s focus would be open-ended, with each member defining their own goals. Thus, it would differ from top-down “leadership training” (which can be valuable). With the Occupy Be the Change Caucus, which Michael Nagler helped to launch, we experimented some with such formats. Since then, I’ve discussed the idea on numerous occasions. There seems to be considerable support for it, but so far I know of no such tool. It would not be easy to design, but I think it could be.

3) For the outer ring in the Road Map, I would use something like “Political Action” rather than “Nonviolent Resistance (Satyagraha)” and clearly affirm your intent to focus on shorter-term winnable objectives that lead toward fundamental, systemic reform (as did Gandhi and King). I see direct nonviolent action as a tactic to be used when needed and potentially effective. In the meantime, other tactics such as letter-writing, circulating petitions, testifying at hearings, and conducting picket lines can help build a campaign. All such work can be done with a nonviolent approach that fosters nonviolence as a way of life. But nonviolent direct actions can be taken while insisting that all participants merely commit to nonviolence for that particular action, without necessarily committing to nonviolence as a way of life. So I find “Nonviolent Resistance (Satyagraha)” as the title for the outer ring to be confusing.

My Community Organizing (Part One)

Wade 001by Wade Lee Hudson

As a child, I organized softball games. In high school, I formed a chess club. As an undergraduate, I served in most of the elected leadership positions at our 90-person student co-op at the University of California at Berkeley (where I got my Social Sciences degree). My last semester at Cal, I was nominated and elected to serve as Co-Coordinator of the experimental 150-student Residence College. Those experiences provided me with a valuable sense of community.

My first taste of deep community, however, was the civil rights movement. In early 1964, I joined Campus CORE and became immersed in a series of Bay Area demonstrations protesting job discrimination — the Lucky Stores shop-ins, the Sheraton Palace sleep-in, and the Auto Row picket lines — as well as an occupation of an Oakland welfare office protesting forced workfare. Those actions focused on winnable demands, involved negotiations that led to compromise, and were victorious. In all of those efforts, I was a foot soldier.

Singing and chanting on picket lines induced an altered state of mind. Putting one’s body on the line and being arrested or risking arrest provided a deep sense of solidarity. The perspective that we white folks were not merely acting for the sake of people of color, but were also acting to save our own souls, made the civil rights movement even more profound.

We knew that the conventional career path was not sufficient. We sensed that we needed to overcome our deeply flawed social conditioning and become more compassionate and nonviolent individuals. For African-Americans who were involved in the movement, that perspective was integrated into their life by their involvement in the Black Church. For many white activists in the movement, including myself, that commitment to self-development was largely implicit. We did not talk about it much. But the movement’s nonviolent philosophy placed in us the seeds of a commitment to ongoing personal growth.

For me, that commitment bloomed the next year. Working as an orderly in a psychiatric hospital opened my heart and an article in Look magazine about the Esalen Institute and the human potential movement inspired me. I soon became immersed in sensory awareness exercises, massage, encounter groups, and psychodrama. Having been a timid, emotionally repressed young man, I steadily became more in touch with my feelings and better able to express them.

During those years, I began to explore my spirituality, inspired by contemporary theologians such as Paul Tillich, who re-interpreted the Bible into contemporary language in a way that made sense to me. I then became intrigued with the “coffee house ministry” that had been initiated by Judson Memorial in Greenwich Village in New York City and Glide Church in San Francisco. which launched the Intersection Center for the Arts.

So when I applied to the Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in 1967, I dedicated myself to organizing “communities of faith, love, and action.” I envisioned such community centers as places that would support political activism as well as personal and community development. I wanted to integrate “the personal and the political.” That has been the central thrust of my life ever since.

During the summer following my first year in seminary, after having been elected Chair of the students’ Education Committee, I decided to push for major changes in the school’s educational philosophy. Though PSR was just one block from the University of California at Berkeley, at that time it was a very traditional, isolated “ivory tower.”

As it turned out, other students that year held a similar intent. We formed the New Seminary Movement, wrote our manifesto, and tried to take over the school. The confrontations that resulted led to several of us being expelled, only to be reinstated by the Board of Trustees. The elderly President resigned and soon the Board hired a new, younger President who helped to transform the school into a much more relevant, community-oriented institution.

The next year Glide Church hired me as an Intern Minister and I moved into the Alternative Futures in the Ministry commune in San Francisco, a project for seminarians modeled after the Residence College. When after two semesters that project ended, many of us stayed together as the Alternative Futures Community, lived in a network of several households, ate a common meal once a week, and conducted intensive weekend Urban Plunges that explored the intersection of personal and political liberation.

In 1971 three Alternative Futures members helped to organize the 1971 May Day demonstrations against the Vietnam War in San Francisco. At an early meeting, I proposed that we try to nonviolently shut down business in the Financial District in conjunction with the national demonstration that planned to shut down Washington, DC by tying up the bridges. The planning committee accepted my idea. But as soon as our action began, a police riot created enormous chaos.

Since the federal government had charged antiwar demonstrators with conspiracy, a felony with the threat of long prison terms, my fellow organizers and I were fearful. Some of them quickly left down for several days. But I suppressed my fear, only to have it erupt into full-blown madness following an LSD trip two weeks later.

My housemates had me committed to a local hospital, where I was heavily drugged and released three days later. My extreme paranoia persisted and a few weeks later I decided to reach out to the most powerful man I knew: the psychiatrist who had been my former boss in Dallas and had become a friend in the interim. He admitted me to the same hospital where I had worked. Two weeks later, he discharged me, gave me a mild prescription, told me to stop taking the drug in a month or so, and advised me to return to San Francisco rather than stay with my parents. Shortly after my return, I got jobs as an office clerk, a convalescent hospital orderly, and a mental health worker in a crisis clinic.

When I learned of the formation of Madness Network News, a publication that was inspired by the work of R.D. Laing and produced by a team of mental health professionals, former patients, and others who were opposed to oppressive psychiatric practices, I helped mimeograph the first issue and became a co-editor. I felt obligated to use my experience on both sides of psychiatry to promote more beneficial alternatives. In 1974, Glide Publications asked us to produce the Madness Network News Reader, an anthology of material from the newsletter and new material.

When we completed that book, I proposed to Leonard Roy Frank that we organize a political-action group to push for reform. He readily agreed and we formed the Network Against Psychiatric Assault (NAPA), which opposed forced psychiatric treatment and promoted self-help alternatives.

(To be continued)

Hunter Pence Reads Gandhi

penceThe spiritual leader of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, right fielder Hunter Pence, is known as “The Reverend.” His teammates gave him that nickname after his memorable 2012 clubhouse speech behind closed doors that helped inspire the team to overcome a two-game deficit and win three games on the road to move on toward their eventual World Series victory. That speech prompted the Giants to include his teammates recreating it  in their video celebrating the World Series.

Then at the end of the 2014 season on the way to another World Series, Pence gave an incredible speech  to a full house of Giants fans at their ballpark.

Now it turns out, as reported yesterday in “He Might Be Giant: A Day in the Life of Hunter Pence,” Pence gets his own inspiration by reading Mahatma Gandhi and The Five Levels of Attachment: Toltec Wisdom for the Modern World by Miguel Ruiz.

RuizWith a 4.7 rating from 175 customer reviews on Amazon, the publisher’s description states:

Building on the principles found in his father’s bestselling book The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz Jr. invites us to gauge how attached we are to our own point of view. In The Five Levels of Attachment, he will help you gain awareness of the agreements you have been implicitly making all these years that shape your reality and affect your future and show you how to release the attachments which no longer reflect who you really are.

This method is twenty years in the making. When don Miguel Ruiz Jr. began his apprenticeship into his family’s Toltec tradition, he was just fourteen years old. His first task was translating his grandmother’s talks from Spanish into English. One day, as he struggled to keep up with her, she asked him: Are you using knowledge, or is knowledge using you?

Finding the answer to this question would shape the destiny of his life. In this groundbreaking work, Ruiz explains each of the Five Levels of Attachment in detail and shows that as our level of attachment to a belief or idea increases, “who we are” becomes directly linked to “what we know.”

Our attachment to beliefs—our own and the beliefs of others—manifests as a mask we don’t realize we can take off. But with don Miguel Ruiz’s help, and some Toltec wisdom along the way, we can return to our True, Authentic Selves, unhindered by judgment and free to pursue our true life’s calling.

The Toltec culture preceded the Aztecs in Mesoamerica. Ruiz and his father are known as “naguals,” masters of transformation of the ancient system of Toltec wisdom, specifically the “Eagle Night” lineage.

In her review, Allyson Gracie reports:

The five levels addressed are: Authentic Self, Preference, Identity, Internalization, and Fanaticism. Ruiz Jr. very simply lays out how our personal belief systems are conditioned from a very early age. We naturally develop preferences and make judgments as well. This book will walk readers through essays to question their own beliefs and look outside the box of their personal attachments. Ruiz Jr. provides simple steps for readers to take action, pausing before jumping to conclusions and giving them permission to experience an alternate story to their conditioned “attachments” that can be applied in any situation. The concepts discussed are not new, but Ruiz Jr. brings a fresh, very masculine and straightforward approach to changing thoughts and behavior that will result in powerful spiritual growth.

Perhaps this kind of thinking has influenced the development of a new, less hierarchical corporate management philosophy on the West Coast and a new approach to sports coaching that has enabled the West Coast to win more baseball, football, and basketball championships than the Northeast since 2005 (seven compared to six), even though New York and Boston teams have more money.

This trend began with Phil Jackson, who studied Native American spirituality closely and incorporated some of its principles into his work and formed the Positive Coaching Alliance to advance his philosophy, which he took to the Los Angeles Lakers. Pete Carroll, with his positive, player-oriented, less militaristic approach has been successful with the University of Southern California and the Seattle Seahawks. The San Francisco Giants have been famously successful as underdogs winning three World Series in five years.

And now the Golden State Warriors appear to be the best team in the NBA!

Maybe the West is best.

We-Facilitation

Teamwork
e.r.w.i.n. / Foter / CC BY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The opencollaboration blog is a stimulating resource. Today’s post, New paradigms of leadership : from leader to facilitator to we-facilitator, is no exception. However, as reflected by my comment that follows their essay, which I posted on their blog, I have some disagreement.

I have been a number of workshops where something the facilitator/leader of the workshop did was questioned, an act which created a certain degree of uncomfortableness not only because something is being challenged, but also because in this situation it is no longer clear who is facilitating the discussion. The workshop leader has lost a lot their authority temporarily. I have watched with intrigue as different members of the group then attempt to take up the role of facilitator, guiding how and what is to be discussed, highlighting areas of interest, and suggesting certain processes. There can occur what might be dubbed facilitator overlap, as different processes compete for the way things unfold. Sometimes the ensuing discussion gets off the tracks, and falls apart. Other times through people listening, empathy, synergy, and proper switching of process tracks can guide the whole group into balance.

At a gathering last year in Findhorn, Scotland which was brought to discuss the New Story, the new paradigms coming into reality, the agenda was interrupted when the cards outlining the schedule was rearranged by to say We Don’t Know. There was a shocked silence, then the head facilitator suggested people meditate, and then people spoke up. Some were quite angry that this had occurred, one man said it was a violent. There was an urgency from some people in the room to get the conference ‘back on track’ onto a known schedule. There was also a voice that said lets not jump back in so quick, lets be present to what is occurring. Charles Eisenstein ( who writes a lot about the new story in his books, and who later turned out to be one of the pranksters who had rearranged the cards) stood up and asked who it is that we turn to, who has the power in a group. The question of who has the authority hung in the air.

It is at these times the skills of improvisational co-facilitation are needed. Where people are able to listen to the multiple perspectives and energies in the room, and also able to sense into the efficacy of different facilitation strategies. It requires being able to assess on the fly the skills of other facilitators and efficacy of different process strategies. It is about intuitively knowing when better to stay quiet or when to speak. And its about being to dance in that confusion.

What is being looked for, is the ability for a group to self-organize, when there is no clear leader, no clear facilitation process, into functional and energetically healthy collective.

These are some of the skills the Facilitator Improv process seeks to train people to become better at. Facilitator Improv creates a situation where anyone in the group can facilitate the group in a process, and so helps people listen to the group energy, and also be uncomfortable with the extra creativity and unknown that comes with allowing anyone to lead the group at any one time. The basic Facilitator Improv process involves people going into silence until someone gets an intuitive hit of what to exercise to facilitate the group with. Then everyone goes back into silence until someone gets an intuitive hit of what to lead the group with. In more advance versions of Facilitator Improv exercises can be suggested at anytime, even if another exercise is in progress. People have to use their intuition and energetic listening to guide the group well through this format where ostensibly on the surface its anything goes.

In the current mainstream model of organizational development, we have a person at the top who is telling others what to do, they have the authority. In a more advanced model of organizational development, the person at the top is more of a facilitator (as was the case at the New Story Summit). A facilitator model allows more people to participate, to feel involved, to contribute their knowledge, passion, and essence. However there is still an inherent power dynamic there (which is what Charles Eisenstein was bringing up), we still look to the facilitator as the leader. And any leader will have their blind-spots. In the Occupy Movement, there were people who were frustrated with how people who were facilitators seem to have a lot of power to contour where they wanted the conversation to go. In an even more advance model of organizational development, there is a chance for everyone to become a facilitator. Processes are we-facilitated, omni-facilitated. This model requires participants to also have a higher inner self development, where they are able to be present and aware of their own emotions and thoughts, to sense into the collective energy, and to have a higher degree of empathy.

We can think of a society going from a model of leader to facilitator to we-facilitator. In the Integral theory of Ken Wilber the leader level would be correlated with blue and orange levels of the collective, the facilitator level correlates with the green and teal levels of the collective, and the co-facilitator level correlates with turquoise levels of the collective. The hope is the Facilitator Improv practice spreads it will help usher in turquoise levels of development of our culture.

Dear opencollaboration:

Thanks again for a provocative post. Though some of your typos left the meaning unclear to me, I agree with the thrust. Surely the notion of the leader as the one who is always “in charge” is steadily becoming outmoded. And it’s very much true that anyone in a group can exercise leadership at any time by presenting ideas that move the process along.

However, Jo Freeman, with her classic essay The Tyranny of Structurelessness, hit many nails on the head. We often need to select leaders democratically, delegate specific responsibilities to them, and hold them accountable. Perhaps that does not involve a “clear leader” in the traditional sense, and those roles can be frequently rotated. And in small groups we can even require unanimous consent in order to move forward. But especially in larger groups, some clear structure is often beneficial.

Not everyone can do everything equally well. At times we need to delegate specific tasks to those who are most skilled with regard to those tasks.

And Wilber’s whole framework strikes me as too hierarchical. It’s not a matter of one style being superior, or higher. It’s not either/or, but both/and. Even a traditional, top-down, command-and-control approach is needed in some situations.

Regardless, thanks again for your provocation. Keep up the good work.

 

Being Present and Presence

melting into presence
AlicePopkorn / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

An essay in today’s Times by Lawrence Berger fascinated me. Titled “Being There: Heidegger on Why Our Presence Matters,” it explores what it means to be “fully human” by comparing the approach of cognitive scientists with the phenomenology of Martin Heidegger.

Berger argues that cognitive scientists tend to reductionistic (as is the case with many scientists). They prefer to see humans as “information processors rather than full-blooded human beings immersed in worlds of significance.” Thus, they explain human experience “on the basis of physical and physiological processes,” which is the domain they consider “ultimately real.” Some even go so far as to claim that “we don’t actually have inner feelings in the way most of us think we do.” From this perspective, we don’t have direct contact with people and things, but only “bits of information” that “represent” reality.

Heidegger affirms not only that we are in direct contact with reality through “being in the world.” He also declares that “our presence matters for how they are made manifest — how they come into presence….” One instance is that “when we feel that someone is really listening to us, we feel more alive, we feel our true selves coming to the surface.” As one who has long been profoundly concerned about the decline in the art of listening, I found that formulation very striking.

Heidegger and Berger assert that before we formulate ideas that represent reality, we filter the onslaught of stimuli that bombards us with the mechanism of attention, which is “how things come into presence for us.” By “staying with” what we encounter,” we influence how those entities are “made manifest” and are able to discover “a deeper revelation of its nature.” And our relationships change over time as a result.

Such dynamics apply event to relationships with inanimate objects, like a stone. “Acute attentiveness can lead to a sense of an entity that goes beyond the way it is typically experienced. I can feel something more deeply because I come in direct contact with it in my worldly presence.”

With a tree: “which dimensions of the tree are considered to be real: the tree viewed at the cellular level, or as a mechanical system of sustenance, or is it the tree as we experience it? Indeed, how does science derive the authority to opine on such matters?”

This attitude is reminiscent of Buddhist mindfulness. “This means that staying with the experience of the tree enables it to come to full fruition, and that such experience matters…. For we are more deeply alive and in profound contact with all of the entities that we encounter when such a state is achieved, which means that we participate more fully in this universal process of manifestation.”

Heidegger does not separate the mental and the physical. For him, subjective experience does not take place “in a private realm that is cut off from the rest of reality.” Our presence affects the being of material objects.

“The experience of the stone that I come to is part of the process of its manifestation in all of its possibilities. In this manner we are intimately related to the stone in our worldly presence…. The claim is that the being of the stone itself is not independent of such an event.”

Whereas “the prevailing view is that the universe consists of discrete entities that are ultimately related by physical laws,” Berger asserts, “We belong here together with the trees and the stones, for we are made manifest together. Rather than being discrete entities, the relation comes first, and the extent to which we are related matters for what we and the stone ultimately are.”

We are not fundamentally cut off from the world. “We are in direct and potentially profound relation with the people and things that we encounter. On this latter view there is unlimited potential for what can be made manifest ….There can be little doubt that our presence matters if this is any indication of our true vocation.”

What is our “true vocation?” In “Our Purpose,” I offered some thoughts on that question and concluded, “Life seeks to survive and evolve. Our calling is to contribute to human evolution.” Heidegger and Berger suggest a broader frame: fully paying attention is at the heart of helping to unfold life’s potential and contribute to the evolution of Life itself.

Our Purpose

Limits to Growth
Anua22a / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

We take care of ourselves, our families, our communities, our nation, all humanity, and the planet in order to take care of Life itself. Each arena is equally important. To promote the common good of the Earth Community, we need to work in each simultaneously. We need to love ourselves, others, and Life at the same time.

If we neglect one arena, we become unbalanced, less than whole, with a hole in our soul. If we forget why we do what we do, we lose meaning.

It’s not a question of what comes first. We cannot change ourselves without changing the world, and we cannot change the world without changing ourselves. We need to do both at the same time, while avoiding both selfishness and self-sacrifice. Being selfless involves less self, not the denial of self.

Life seeks to survive and evolve. Our calling is to contribute to human evolution.

ABC of Life

ABC of LifeA sculpture by Stephen Schlanser. Text by Evelin Hyde.
Each line begins with a letter of the alphabet.

ACHIEVE HAPPINESS
BELIEVE IN HUMANITY
CELEBRATE LIFE
DISCOVER THE MOMENT
EMBRACE DIVERSITY
FIND LOVE
GIVE UNCONDITIONALLY
HAVE PATIENCE
INSPIRE OTHERS
JUDGE NO ONE
KEEP GOALS
LAUGH OFTEN
MANAGE ANGER
NOTICE MODESTY
OFFER UNDERSTANDING
PLAY FOR FUN
QUESTION EVERYTHING
REALIZE DREAMS
SPEAK TRUTH
TRUST YOURSELF
UNDERSTAND DIFFERENCES
VISUALIZE PEACE
WAKEN CURIOSITY
XXXOOO
YEARN FOR PROGRESS
ZEALOUSLY LIVE LIFE

Found in the office of Rebecca Crabb, Ph. D. 

Today is Not Adequate: A Sermon by Dr. Dorsey Blake

Following is the text of the sermon presented by Dr. Dorsey Blake at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples on February 15. 2015. To hear audio of other, more recent Fellowship Church services, click here.

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DSC02030Today is not adequate if we are to create a future.  Today with all of its affirmation of who we are, its stability and familiarity, its grounding, is not sufficient for what must become, the future that must be.  There must be in today a sense of beyondness, a sense of seeing beyond the present circumstances.  It is the impulse in the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements that moves beyond staying in today’s outrage and thereby consuming the self to incorporating an element of hope that what ought to be can be (The definition of faith by Harry Emerson Fosdick).  Without this element we will not create and embrace the fortitude needed for a new heaven and new earth, to use the language of John exiled on the isle of Patmos.

Freedom always entails a sense of beyondness.  No, we have not overcome; but, we shall overcome someday.  It is this dimension of the soul that allows one to deal with the vicissitudes, the pain, the  problems, the heartbreaks, the violence, the shootings, the corruption with Dr. Thurman’s understanding that the oppressions, the disappointments, the betrayals, the fear, hypocrisy, and hatred that enshroud one’s life are neither final nor ultimate.  For example, we hear these words in Charles Tindley’s wonderful song:

Beams of heaven as I go,
through the wilderness below,
guide my feet in peaceful ways,
turn my midnights into days.

When in the darkness I would grope,
faith always sees a star of hope,
and soon from all life’s grief and danger
I shall be free someday.

I do not know how long ’twill be,
nor what the future holds for me,
but this I know: if Jesus leads me,
I shall get home someday.

Listen to the words, I shall be free someday. I shall get home someday. Many people considered this and other songs like as other worldly.  And, felt that they guided people into accepting their struggles without struggling to overcome them.  But, when you realize that this was one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s favorite songs, you know that isn’t true.  It was not otherworldly for him. There is a presence beyond the earthly, beyond today, that infuses the spirit with an unshakeable confidence in the sojourn ahead. It says that the empire’s timetable is not God’s timetable.  There is a dimension of human existence that is beyond the manipulations of those in power who seek to continue oppressing the people of God, all people.  It is this dimension that is embedded in the nonviolent struggle, that the victory may not come today, or even in one’s lifetime, but it shall come, if the people of God trust God enough with their lives, their God-given talents to press on to a higher calling, to higher Ground.

Remember in Dr. King’s last speech, he assured us that we would get to the Promised Land even though he may not get there with us.  And, he did not get there with us.  And we have not gotten there yet. For a nation threatened by his vision and commitment to the beloved community, to eradicating poverty, to studying war no more, understood his anti-imperialist incarnation and caused the blood to cease to run in his veins as it poured upon the concrete at the Lorraine Motel, April 4, 1968.  But, he will get there with us when we get to that Promised Land; for his blood will never lose its power to help us overcome our fear, and will gird our loins, minds, hearts, spirits as we continue the march up to freedom land.

He knew and embodied the understanding that as Audre Lourde said so beautifully that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

This past week many of the most progressive Black religious leaders in the nation gathered in Norfolk, VA, for the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.  Young people and older people, men and women addressed the conference addressing the theme:  Reclaiming Our Moral Authority:  Faith and Justice in the Age of Reinvented Empire.

That is not the master’s tool, moral authority. False claims to moral authority yes, those are tools of the Empire, but not moral authority.  You may recall that I have shared from this pulpit that in my junior year of college, Dr. King, spoke in Sayles Hall at Brown University.  Afterword, he was asked in a press conference about the idea that was going around about his running as Vice-President on a Presidential ticket with Robert Kennedy.  He responded by saying that he would never do such because he saw himself not as a politician but as the moral voice of the nation.

Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor was a friend and mentor of Dr. King who wrote a book entitled:  My Moral Odyssey.  I was so pleased that the conference honoring his life honored the centrality of morality in its conference.  I’m not talking about the phony morality that some, including religious, leaders use to talk about private morality such as drinking, smoking, dancing, premarital sex.  No, the folks at the conference talked about our moral responsibility to address the empire on behalf of the discarded ones, dispossessed, the locked out members of our society.  It did say that we have to be careful that our lives reflect the kind of society we want to see. There is an extensive internal examination that we have to make sure that we are living up to the values, the morality, that we project upon society.

It reaffirmed nonviolence as the moral way to create a moral society.  Violence was the master’s tool.   Nonviolence was a higher order.  It supports the idea that what is moral is that which elevates human personality and dignity.  And, what is immoral is that which degrades human personality and dignity. King stated that the ultimate goal of nonviolence was to understand that the destiny of all, white,  Black, whatever, is tied together, that is, to reclaim our walk together as one people.  He said that now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of what we called brotherhood.

The beyond dimension was there because it was clear that violence only perpetuated violence, creating an unending cycle of violence.  It, violence, could perhaps win some skirmishes but not win the heart of the people and the nation.  And winning the hearts, possessing the souls of people was absolutely necessary for the creation of that beloved community, the modern expression of the reign of Kingdom of God ideal.

One idea paramount at the conference was that we buy into the protocols and practices of the empire daily.  And, we need to examine ourselves and our duplicity and complicity with the empire and imperial practices if we are to be leaders of the people, leading them into this space of beyondness essential to the creation of the New Heaven and Earth.  which is our purpose for living. These are my words and concepts with which some at the conference may disagree. The empire understands violence. It will squash violence. But nonviolence is a new concept. They don’t know what’s going on. They cannot understand people going to jail. And that is what nonviolence does. It gives people time to do something before the empire catches on to what they are doing, allowing time for victories.

John exiled on the isle of Patmos envisions a way forward, a future beyond space, time, circumstance freed from present notions.  That is what beyond entails.  It is not a place but a consciousness, understanding, a vision that lifts us from our fallenness, not an original fallenness, but one in which we have been victimized by empire, victimized so thoroughly, so completely that we feel impotent to be the people we are called to be and create the future that needs to be.

“Behold, I saw a new heaven and a new earth” the writer of the Biblical book of Revelation wrote. And of John Dr.Thurman said: Very daring words they are and it is important for us to recognize that these words came out of a background of struggle and pain and tragedy and persecution.  They testify to the fact that there is something about the human spirit that is able to project itself out of any dilemma which may be facing it, and to act as if the dilemma has been resolved.

Let us remember the necessity of this beyond dimension as we move forward, asserting in no uncertain terms that Black lives do matter, that all lives do matter, that life itself matters.

When the writer of Revelation dreams, he says that he sees a new heaven and a new earth.  If heaven is where God dwells, and there is a new heaven, what does that mean?  Is the seer saying that God moves out more and more in creative exploration, that before there can be a new earth, a new Ferguson, a new New York, a new Santa Rosa, there must be a new heaven, a new way of thinking, of being, a new consciousness?

A new earth — we talk about it! One world (United Nations) we talk about it! We try to get sufficient dynamic, sufficient conception, sufficient insight, from an old heaven, an old dogma, old theological discipline, to provide power, insight, guidance, strength, substance for a new world.  And, we can’t do it.

Victor Hugo comments in Les Miserables “We often deny by our way of attaining the goal the meaning of the goal.  We strive for an ideal tomorrow by borrowing as the process of attaining it from the falsehood of yesterday.   We do not put our faith in the irresistible and incorruptible strength of our principles until after we have made ourselves secure on the world’s past falsehoods.”

But a new heaven! The dream of a new heaven, with all that that implies, works over the stubborn and often unyielding stuff of the old earth until at last out of the very heart throb of the new heaven is born the new earth.

There can be no greater hope, no greater stirring of the mind and the spirit, as we face going forth into the future with all of its withering disillusions and its grounded despair than that we are visited by the glory of a new heaven.

Wherever we are, however we are functioning, whatever responsibilities are ours — if we capture the mood, the spirit, the intensity of a new heaven to steady us and to strengthen us, we shall walk though the “crud” of the earth in preparation for a new earth — a new earth which will be the heritage of little babies and little puppies and little kittens yet to come.  What a wonderful thing to make that kind of demand upon today and tomorrow!

Behold there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, because the new heaven is already born in the heart and the spirit and the life of anyone anywhere who has made the great and central surrender to God, replacing “hands up I can’t breathe”  with:

1.      Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.

2.      Breathe on me, Breath of God,  until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.

3.      Breathe on me, Breath of God,  till I am wholly thine, till all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.

4.      Breathe on me, Breath of God, so shall I never die, but live with thee the perfect life of thine eternity.

 

 

 

Cultivating My Home

DSC02380Organizing the Western Park Residents’ Association has been rewarding and time-consuming. It’s interfered with writing, but since I expect to live here the rest of my life, I might as well make the best of it.

My 200 elderly neighbors are a rich and diverse collection of talented characters. Many are rather quirky, but never having been normal myself, I fit in.

Recently rehabilitated, our affordable housing complex is like new. With one 12-story tower and three multi-unit “cottages,” we have a small library, activities room, laundry room, roof-top garden, well-equipped exercise room, meeting room, computer room, and a large multi-purpose room with a ping-pong table, flat screen TV, and public address system.

From my one-bedroom apartment (see photos), my view stretches from Mt. Tam to Twin Peaks.DSC02381

Situated on the edge of the historic Fillmore District, two blocks from Japantown, and six blocks from Robert Redford’s Kabuki Sundance Cinema (with reserved seating!), the location is convenient. The bus at the corner goes directly to BART, which travels to the East Bay.

I knew I wanted to live here when twenty years ago I visited a resident, Bob Forsberg, a fellow member of the Campaign to Abolish Poverty. As I approached sixty, I dropped by once a year to try to get on the waiting list, but it was always closed. Then one day the staff took my number and within a year, almost four years ago, I moved in.

Since the building is owned by a church-related non-profit, my partially subsidized rent is only $971 per month (which is low for San Francisco!). When I get to the top of the Section 8 waiting list in several years, my rent will be even less, one-third of my income.

At that point, I’ll probably stop driving taxi. Though I may then have to become even more frugal, it seems I’ll still be able to live comfortably and maybe even spend $2-3,000 a year to travel, including trips abroad. To have more time for my community work, until now I haven’t worked for money enough to save for my retirement. So I feel fortunate I will be able to sell my taxi medallion, have landed in a great home, and have a good retirement plan.

When I moved in, the Residents Council was small and relatively inactive. Then the Council became completely inactive. As the rehab was nearing completion, however, some residents called a meeting to kickstart the Council. About fifteen people, including me, participated.

When I proposed a deliberate, fully informed process for recruiting candidates and conducting an election of officers with a secret ballot, my proposal was accepted and I was recruited to serve as Chair of the Election Committee. Later, when no one else would agree to run as President, I told the committee I would be willing to do so. They responded with spontaneous applause.

Though old-timers predicted a small turnout for our first meeting, more than 40 residents came. Later, more than 60% of the residents voted for the slate of candidates. Those responses were encouraging. We were off and running.

But the owner was bringing on a new executive director, our building only had an interim manager, everyone was recovering from the year-long rehab ordeal, and the new Residents’ Council was finding its feet. These transitions led to ambiguity about how the Council and management would relate to each other. So the Council decided to hold off on meeting during the holidays.

The New Year brought a new, permanent manager with whom the Council has collaborated productively. She has engaged in dialog with residents at our monthly Council meetings and participated in a vibrant Saturday night potluck with 50 residents. We’re solidifying our committees, including a Conflict Resolution committee that will address resident complaints about other residents and management.

The Council recently circulated a 10-question survey to all residents. The 58 responses were interesting and informative. In response to “I would like to participate in a gathering at least once every two months to get to know people on my floor more fully,” the replies were 24 Yes, 12 No, and 22 Not sure. When asked which committee they would like to work with, five respondents said they were interested in the Floor Gatherings committee. (Five also expressed interest in the Welcoming committee).

As an experiment with enriched social interaction, I invited 10 residents (the four-person Executive Committee and seven other active Council members) to a Saturday morning brunch in my apartment. After eating, we went around the circle and everyone told their story, including their current interests, using a timer to limit the responses to five minutes. All of the participants seemed to really enjoy it.

Also interesting is that when asked if the Council may let other residents know “if and when I am hospitalized,” the responses were about equally divided between Yes, No, and Not Sure.

Where all this goes in the future remains to be seen. But the prospects are promising and I’m enjoying the challenge.

Google Teams

Big Google brother ?
Alain Bachellier / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Whenever one of my taxi passengers mentions that they work with a “team” in their workplace, I inquire about how the team operates. I am particularly interested in whether the team leader is “in charge” and holds the authority to make the final decision. More often than not, that has been the case.

Last night, however, I gave a ride to a high-level Google executive. He said he prefers 6 -8 person teams. Larger teams are more problematic, he said.

The key process with Google is that proponents for proposed changes in Google’s codes present their proposal to others who review and evaluate the proposal, who must approve it. If the reviewer sees a problem, he or she can block the change. Thus, consensus is required.

The head of the teams are called “Tech Leads.” If the Tech Lead has an idea that the other team members do not support, “the Tech Lead loses.”

I find this process remarkably democratic and encouraging.