Community at Pacific School of Religion

erinDear Erin:

I’ve been thinking about the wonderful conversation we had over dinner Friday night. It’s very encouraging to learn that a highly skilled person with your perspective serves as Communications Manager at Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkeley. And it’s heartening to know that the school appreciates the role that the New Seminary Movement played in the school’s growth. When the President expelled several of us for a minor infraction, the Board of Trustees reinstated us, the President resigned, and the next President, David Napier, an activist chaplain from Stanford University, led PSR into a new progressive era. The school is now less of an isolated “ivory tower” and more involved in the community.

Toward the end of our conversation, you asked if I had thoughts about whether New Seminary Movement principles could help strengthen the school today. I hope my immediate responses were helpful. Here are some additional thoughts.

PSR could endorse political demonstrations and a PSR delegation could take a PSR banner to those demonstrations. The process of deciding to endorse a demonstration could be clear and transparent. Ultimately those decisions might be made by the President or a team designated by the President. But that process would best include extensive deliberation open to the whole PSR community, both face-to-face and online. Following those deliberations, a straw poll of community members could offer advice. To avoid damaging splits, the final decision-makers could make a commitment in advance to seriously consider a recommended endorsement only if a supermajority, such as 75%, support the action.

As we discussed, except when some concrete service such as helping to build a house is offered, it might be best to frame short-term student “immersion” in a community as primarily a way for the students to learn about that community so they can report to their own communities about what they learn. For outsiders to offer non-material (whether personal or spiritual) support is problematic. Rather, any such aid could emerge spontaneously, informally, naturally, not as an explicit purpose of the program.

Also, PSR could require every student to take a course on “the priesthood of all believers,” which was key to both the early Christian church and the foundation of Protestantism. As discussed in “Baptists: The Priesthood of The Believer or of Believers?”, that communal aspect highlights fellowship with other believers, which nurtures growth and improves ministry by helping believers to gain insight and understanding from one another, as equals. No one holds authority over the others. Decisions are made by the community, rooted in prayer, study, meditation, and discussion. This course could also address servant-leadership, collaborative leadership, and other new, emerging understandings of leadership that contrast with the old notion that defines leadership as the ability to mobilize followers.

Toward the goal of understanding the priesthood of all believers, as we discussed PSR could facilitate the formation of open-ended, confidential support groups that would enable members to aid one another in the pursuit of their mission. To enhance trust, those groups might form organically once students get to know others with whom they feel an affinity, with the initial core inviting others to join them. That experience could be like a “house church” that would help students be better ministers after graduation.

I emphasize “open-ended” because my impression is that most leadership development programs, faith-based and faith-rooted training programs, various support groups, Bible study groups, etc., adopt a predefined focus, a focus that is defined by the “authority.” The best exception to that rule that I’ve discovered is True North Groups, which are small groups of people with whom “we can have in-depth discussions and share intimately about the most important things in our lives—our happiness and sadness, our hopes and fears, our beliefs and convictions.”  So far, the only faith-based organizing I’ve discovered that adopted this kind of approach were practitioners of Liberation Theology who opened meetings by asking members about personal problems for which they needed assistance.

Perhaps PSR can better nurture “deep community” at PSR so its graduates could better do the same in the world.

Keeping faith,



Shut Up and Listen

shut-upResponding to anger can be difficult. Generally the best response is to listen, ask questions, learn, empathize, and find points of agreement. Unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated, as I’m still learning.

That’s especially true if you are White and the other is African-American. Let’s face it. In this country, race matters. Persistent oppression and White assumptions of superiority charge the atmosphere.

In “It’s Not About Race!, John Metta reported:

Sometime later, a man said that he hoped we could “rise above emotions.” He wanted an “intellectual discussion” using logic so we could “really get to heart of the matter” without getting “derailed by emotions.”

Metta places this issue within an understanding of cultural differences:

Culture is why some humans eat with a fork, and some eat with chopsticks. Culture explains why someone standing really close while they talk to you might feel threatening to a European, but comforting to a West African. Culture defines what acceptable volumes are when speaking, and how women are expected to act in social situations.

White people have prejudices about people of color because American culture has normalized whiteness, but the fact that people of color act “differently” further entrenches the “obvious correctness” of a white cultural norm….

We live in a Western European society that was built by Western Europeans for Western Europeans to live in….

Black people talk too loud, they don’t do what they’re told, they “act out,” they stand too close, they have weird hair, they dress funny, they shake their butts too much (which is fine if Taylor Swift does it)….

Why do we need to center a discussion about racism in the white cultural experience? Why do we need to communicate using Western cultural norms? So, we can talk about race, but we shouldn’t talk about race the way a Black person carrying West African culture would talk about it? We should avoid their anger and pain? It would be “better” to talk about it in a way that Western Europeans will be comfortable talking about it?…

Every single thing white people do and say is done in the context of normative white culture, which they don’t have to think about….

So either we get angry, or we just close our eyes, nod our heads, and say things like “Yeah, using the Socratic method to talk intellectually would probably be a good way for us to discuss systematic racism.”

My White tendency toward a cool, calm, collected, linear, logical, Western style of discourse is often a problem. It took me years to get in touch with my emotions and I’m still slow to do so. That’s who I am and I accept myself.

Still, I tell myself that rather than trying to persuade others to change, we who are committed to nonviolence in word and deed need to do a better job of practising what we preach.

Then perhaps we can help organize strong communities that will have a real impact.

Issues Republicans Support

republicansThe following quotes report on proposed policies that are supported by a majority of Republicans. Links to sources are embedded.

There is strong support across party lines for limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns, limiting the amount of money groups not affiliated with candidates can spend, and requiring unaffiliated groups to publicly disclose their donors if they spend money during a political campaign.


Republicans and Democrats alike say that communities will be safer when the criminal justice system reduces the number of people behind bars and increases the treatment of mental illness and addiction, which are seen as primary root causes of crime.

Overall, 69% of voters say it is important for the country to reduce its prison populations, including 81% of Democrats, 71% of Independents and 54% of Republicans.

In a sharp shift away from the 1980s and 1990s, when incarceration was seen as a tool to reduce crime, voters now believe by two-to-one that reducing the prison population will make communities safer by facilitating more investments in crime prevention and rehabilitation strategies.
87% of respondents agree that drug addicts and those with mental illness should not be in prison, they belong in treatment facilities.


Americans widely support each of three job creation proposals, including offering tax breaks to businesses that create jobs in the U.S. and a program that would put people to work on urgent infrastructure repair projects. Support for these programs is only slightly lower in a variant of the question that asks respondents if they are in favor of spending government money to pay for the programs.


Voter opposition to increased military spending was once again mostly bipartisan. In the 2012 survey, two-thirds of Republicans and nine in 10 Democrats supported making immediate cuts.


A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 15% of Likely U.S. Voters think the federal government should continue to provide funding for foreign countries to buy military weapons from U.S. companies. Seventy percent (70%) oppose this funding to promote U.S. arms sales. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided about it. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

History tells us…

From “History tells us what may happen next with Brexit & Trump” by Tobias Stone

…The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. They are less violent, so end up in prisons, camps, and graves. We need to beware not to become divided (see: Labour party), we need to avoid getting lost in arguing through facts and logic, and counter the populist messages of passion and anger with our own similar messages. We need to understand and use social media. We need to harness a different fear. Fear of another World War nearly stopped World War 2, but didn’t. We need to avoid our own echo chambers. Trump and Putin supporters don’t read the Guardian, so writing there is just reassuring our friends. We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.

My Week in Review – 9/18/16



Last week I was in a particularly good mood. Then Trump self-destructed with his birther statement and I felt even better.

I feel more grounded, better able to see my situation, more accepting of my limits, and clear about how I want to try to contribute to social change.

Reflecting on and modifying the “Drowning Children” metaphor deepened my commitment to do all I can to reform the social system that daily kills 8.000 children and end the poverty in this country that daily kills 2,400 Americans. I feel morally obligated to do all I can about that.

As Bob Dylan sings in “What Good Am I?”:

If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

I’ve concluded that I’ll try to contribute to the Cause my summing up my thinking in a new book, a booklet, tentatively titled, Transforming America: How to Fix the “Rigged System.”

The following developments bolster my confidence that my conclusions are sensible.

My reading of the excellent book, Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt by Sarah Jaffe, reassures me that my critique of the conventional leftist thinking she affirms is solid.

My reading of the beautiful book, Kiss the Sky: My Weekend in Monterey at the Greatest Concert Ever by Dusty Baker, the baseball manager, reinforces my belief in an alternative stance that holds more potential.

Hillary Clinton’s comments about the supposedly irredeemable Trump “deplorables” exposed for all to see the liberal elitism I’ve been talking about for years. Unfortunately most of her supporters seem inclined to defend her.

Her comments also clarified the important distinction between saying “that is a racist comment” and “you are a racist,” or saying “he is a deplorable politician” and “he is a deplorable person.” As I’ve argued, we can make judgments without being judgmental.

Hillary’s decision to ignore the Democratic Party platform (and promote her own proposals instead) and her weak support for the Party in general as she focuses on her own election (which has infuriated many Democrats) highlights a key weakness in the Party that I addressed in “The Convention: What Was Missing.”

Bernie’s decision not to build a new, democratic, grassroots organization, but rather focus on electoral politics, as does Barack, reduces the possibility that “Our Revolution” will fill the need for a new national organization, which I unsuccessfully tried to address by encouraging Bernie and/or the San Francisco Democratic Party to help transform the Party into an activist organization

Those and other developments lead me to believe that I am on a wise path. It’s not the only one, but it is a wise one nevertheless.

Unfortunately, so far, not many San Franciscans seem to share my vision (though some online friends elsewhere seem to).

So I plan to stop trying to organize projects myself and put my thoughts down on paper in a way that may be more convincing and/or inspiring.

At the same time, I’ll continue to keep my eyes open for a holistic community that I can join. And I’ll remain open to soulful face-to-face connections if and when those opportunities emerge.

My interactions with my passengers provide me with most or all of the superficial connections I need.

So my plan is to write as much as I can on Sundays and weeknights, watch some political comedy at 9 pm before going to bed at 10 pm (I’ve invited some neighbors here at Western Park to join me for that and I hope they will), read on the bus to and from work, and on Saturday, my Day of Rest, socialize some and commune for at least a few hours with Mother Nature (as I did on a recent hike on Land’s End and my outing to the beach yesterday that I captured with these photos and these.)

As Dusty Baker told his son, I tell myself:

It requires more strength to be different. You don’t go out of your way. But you don’t worry about being accepted. And if you’ve got the lead in life, you keep the lead. You just stay on that path wherever it’s taking you. If they say you’re “weird,” who cares?

I could count at least ten or fifteen times in the past when I’ve been ahead of my time on major issues. I sense the same may be true with regard to my search for holistic, or deep, community. No one knows if I “have the lead” on that issue. I may not know before I die.

All I can do with my remaining time is to minimize self-indulgence, keep the faith, walk the walk, and keep my eyes on the prize.

With my new book, if I can tie my thoughts together well enough, perhaps I can plant some seeds that will eventually bloom (as did other seeds that I planted).

Community Dialogues: Problem-Solving Conversations



The following is a possible format for a series of public forums that could enable richer interaction than is usually the case with such events. Feedback is welcome.

A Community Dialogue
and Problem-solving Conversation
[Guest Speaker]

  1. Opening statement by guest speaker – 15 minutes
  2. Discussion with audience – 30 minutes
  3. Guest speaker poses a question to the audience: a real, non-rhetorical question for which the speaker is seeking an answer or answers
  4. Audience breaks down into small groups (4-5 people) that try to agree on written answers – 15 minutes
  5. Breakout group reports and closing discussion – 30 minutes.

Drowning Children

drowningA well-documented Soapboxie analysis concluded that 874,000 Americans died from poverty in 2011. That’s 2,400 people daily, more than any of the other top killers. Since we could end poverty if we had the political will, those are preventable deaths.

The World Health Organization reports, “5.9 million children under the age of five died in 2015. More than half of these early child deaths are due to conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable interventions.” Daily, that’s more than 8,000 preventable deaths, many of which are American.

In light of those facts, imagine the following scenario.

A town with 10,000 working-age residents is located next to a rapidly flowing river.

Each day 8,000 children under the age of five float down that river on the way to rocky rapids downstream.

Upstream, on the edge of town, three large men are throwing those 8,000 children into the river.

The 3,400 adults in town who work in health, social assistance, and government jobs try to rescue the drowning children. On average they save 100 each day.

From time to time, a resident goes upstream and asks the men to stop throwing children into the river, but they refuse. When the resident tries to stop them, the three men force the resident to leave.

If ten residents, or roughly one percent of the town’s adult population, teamed up they could stop the men.

But when one or two residents try to organize that team, they fail. Arguments about leadership, power struggles, and resentments undermine unity.

And most residents either focus on rescuing the drowning children one-by-one or continue with their daily life, take care of themselves and their families, and ignore the children floating down the river.


That metaphor reflects the situation in the United States, which is the primary force in the global social system that kills 8,000 children each day.

If one million Americans, or roughly one percent of all adults, united in a sustained manner to push Washington to establish policies that are supported by a majority of Americans, we could steadily transform this nation into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of the Earth Community.

But activists are fragmented and most Americans are chasing the American Dream.

Ask Questions

questionsIn the concluding paragraph of “Hillary Clinton was wrong: Donald Trump’s voters are not ‘irredeemable’” Sally Kohn used italics to emphasize an important point:

We shouldn’t tell them they’re deplorable. In fact, we shouldn’t tell them anything at all. We should listen to their anger and their concerns and try to understand.

An obvious way to increase understanding is to ask questions. As Dorothy Leeds addresses in The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and at Work “questions can improve relationships, help determine what people really want, uncover opportunities, persuade others, and get more out of every business or personal encounter.”

According to MindTools, active listening involves five keys:

  1. Pay Attention
  2. Show That You’re Listening
  3. Provide Feedback
  4. Defer Judgment
  5. Respond Appropriately

If you aren’t sure what to ask, you can always, like a child, simply ask, “Why?”

I don’t know why most people seem to be poor listeners. Some reasons may be:

  • We’re so sure we’re right we feel we don’t need to learn anything new.
  • We label people and put them in a box rather than seeking to better understand their particular individuality.
  • We’re afraid of learning something new that will challenge us to change and we’re comfortable with the way we are

But I believe that if we become better listeners, it will help us to change the world.

Hillary, Making Judgments, and Being Judgmental

judgmentMy monitoring of today’s news indicates that many of Hillary’s supporters have learned little from her deplorable comment about “irredeemable” Trump supporters.

That issue is important. It affects how we treat one another throughout society.

It’s not merely a question of strategy. It’s also a question of truthfulness.

We can make judgments, or form an opinion, without being judgmental, which involves a harsh moral judgment about the person as a person, his or her essential character. As Gandhi, drawing from St. Augustine, said, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.”

“Those are deplorable statements” differs greatly from “those are deplorable persons.” To say that people are irredeemable, or not able to be saved, improved, or corrected, as dd Hillary, is even worse.

Trump, of course, has expressed his own harsh judgments. If Hillary decides to be more fully self-critical about her mistake, she could highlight his failings, for which he will not apologize because they fuel his campaign.

For many years, I’ve been trying to encourage progressive activists to engage in inner work to change how we feel, think, and act with regard to such issues.

Perhaps this year’s campaign, by dragging us even further down into the gutter, will help more people understand the need for constant self-improvement.