Transform Workshop Evaluation

I just offered the following responses to a survey from The Center for Spiritual and Social Transformation concerning their four  Transform: Spirituality and Social Change sessions that were held last month.

1. How did you hear about the Transform workshop? Please be specific.

2. What were you hoping to gain from the course?
I was primarily looking for opportunities to engage in dialog with peers who respect one another as equals about how we might develop user-friendly, easily replicated tools to support one another in our spiritual growth and help build a national movement to impact national policy – that is, practice what we preach.

3. How well did the course meet these hopes/expectations?
Not at all. I found the first two sessions to be too top-heavy with lectures. They were more like a “class” than an interactive, problem-solving “workshop.” They were too much in the head and not enough from the heart. During the first two classes, when I posed a question and offered a comment, I felt that Liza did not respond to what I said. During the breaks, I engaged in dialog with others about statements they made with which I resonated, but no one did the same with me. As people walked around during breaks, I experienced little eye contact. There was no email dialog during the week. When I emailed one participant about another event and told her, “I’m particularly interested in user-friendly methods that activists could use to support one another in that work — methods that could be easily replicated and spread. AA is a suggestive example. If you have thoughts or experience along that line, I’d like to hear them,” I received no reply. So, all in all, I concluded that I was unlikely to find an opportunity to collaborate on my pressing concern through the class and decided not to sacrifice more income by participating during work hours. So I did not go to the third or fourth class.

4. Evaluate the following statements.
The instructor presented the material in an engaging and accessible way. Agree
The course material was helpful. Agree
The discussion was helpful. Agree
The course helped me in my work. Agree
The course helped clarify my vocation. Agree
I made valuable connections with other course participants. Disagree

5. How was the course most helpful to you?
It reassured me that there are others who want to work on their spiritual growth and are willing to acknowledge their weaknesses and mistakes in order to do so.

6. What could have strengthened your experience?
A more practical focus on developing and sharing tools that could be used to build a national movement committed to turning our nation into a compassionate community.

7. What kinds of workshops would you like to see in the future?
Workshops that facilitate speaking from the heart with peers who respect one another as equals and explore how we might develop user-friendly, easily replicated tools to support one another in our spiritual growth and help build a national movement to impact national policy – that is, practice what we preach.

8. What class formats would work best for you in the future?
Half-day on the weekend
Full-day retreat

Fragmentation: Fellowship Church, July 27

Kathryn BentonThe theme of the July 27 worship service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples was fragmentation.

Following the opening piano prelude by Dr. Carl Blake, the Gathering of Community began with Expressing a Sense of Awe, during which Dr. Kathryn Benton affirmed, “All that is given us is our life. It is more than enough.”

The congregation then sang, “We Celebrate the Web of Life.”

We celebrate the web of life, its magnitude we sing,
For we can see divinity in every living thing.

A fragment of the perfect whole in cactus and in quail,
As much in tiny barnacle as in the great blue whale.

Of ancient dreams we are the sum, our bones link stone to star,
And bind our future worlds to come with worlds that were and are.

Respect the water, land, and air which gave all creatures birth,
Protect the lives of all that share the glory of the earth.

Then the Invoking the Presence involved a responsive reading, “From the Fragmented World,” which affirms:

From the fragmented world of our everyday lives we gather together to search of wholeness.

By many cares and preoccupations, by diverse and selfish aims are we separated from one another and divided within ourselves.

Yet we know that no branch is utterly severed from the Tree of Life that sustains us all.

We cherish our oneness with those around us and the countless generations that have gone before us.

We would hold fast to all of good we inherit even as we would leave behind us the outworn and the false.

We would escape from bondage to the ideas of our own day and from the delusions of our fancy.

Let us labor in hope for the dawning of a new day without hatred, violence, and injustice.

Let us nurture the growth in our own lives of the love that has shone in the lives of the greatest of men and women, the rays of whose lamps still illumine our way.

In this spirit we gather,
In this spirit we pray.

Practicing the Presence began with a meditation offered by Dr. Dorsey Blake, followed by the congregation singing, “Let There Be Light.”

Let there be light, let there be understanding,
Let all the nations gather, let them be face to face.

Open our lips, open our minds to ponder,
Open the door of concord opening into grace.

Perish the sword, perish the angry judgment,
Perish the bombs and hunger, perish the fight for gain.

Let there be light, open our hearts to wonder,
Perish the way of terror, hallow the world God made.

Rev. Elizabeth Olson then offered a prayer that included: “Listen within for the truth to emerge. Let us have the ears to hear. May we inspire and infuse one another with the Spirit.”

Resting in the Presence opened with Dr. Carl Blake playing an adagio Music Meditation by Marcello-Bach, following by The Word on fragmentation and wholeness that was presented by Dr. Benton. She spoke of the tension between the particular and the universal, between the parts and the whole. She then cited examples and described how labels are oppressive and contribute to fragmentation, as we are reduced to particular roles as we move through the course of life. This compartmentalization results in fragmented realms, as we “cease to be a coherent whole.”

But when we relate to others as whole persons, it is the space between us, our relationships, that enables us to act. She then quoted from Howard Thurman about the value of “binding community,” which enables us to see pain as “joy becoming.” With this attitude, we are “never static or complete” and experience a “constant unfolding.” With this grounding, “we cannot tolerate injustice,” and “we are part of the single rhythm, the single pulse.”

Courtney Brown facilitated the Offering Our Gifts, which included Announcements by Bryan Caston and various members of the congregation, and the welcoming of visitors.

Sending Forth began with the congregation singing “We Laugh, We Cry.”

We laugh, we cry, we live, we die;
we dance, we sing our song.
We need to feel there’s something here
to which we can belong.

We need to feel the freedom
just to have some time alone.
But most of all we need close friends
we can call our very own.

And we believe in life,
and in the strength of love;
and we have found a need
to be together.

We have our hearts to give,
we have our thoughts to receive;
and we believe that sharing
is an answer.

4. We seek elusive answers to
the questions of this life.
We seek to put an end to all
the waste of human strife.

We search for truth, equality,
and blessed peace of mind.
And then, we come together here
to make sense of what we find.

And we believe in life,
and in the strength of love;
and we have found a joy
being together.

And in our search of peace,
maybe we’ll finally see:
even to question truly
is an answer.

After which Dr. Benton offered the blessing and Dr. Carl Blake closed with a piano postlude.

Belva Davis Promotes Fellowship Church

DSC02012During the Announcements period of the July 20 service, long-term attendee, illustrious and now-retired TV news personality Belva Davis proposed a “Social Media Project” as a way to increase attendance at the historic Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. Following the service she distributed a one-page statement that elaborated on her proposal.

Commenting “we are fortunate in so many ways,” she declared:

We have two world class ministers who write and preach timely, visionary and compassionate sermons.

We have a congregation sprinkled with artistically talented individuals.

Finally, we are blessed with the legacy and brilliance of Howard Thurman.

Given this foundation, she suggested:

I thought if each of us who attend on Sundays posted a short note on our Facebook page, or tweeted a message about what impressed us about that week’s service or a Thurman quote and provided a link to the Fellowship website or Facebook page maybe a few people might respond by visiting a service. There is no dogma here, no religiosity intended.

Belva’s initiative comes in the wake of the leadership provided by new Board Chair Bryan Caston, who has helped the church turn a corner and exhibit an invigorated spirit.

DSC02009You can stay in touch with Belva by “liking” her Facebook page and sending a Friend request to Belva Davis.

For more information about Fellowship Church see my prior posts, Fellowship Church: July 6, 2014 and A Meditation on Deep Community



Why Compassionate Politics

Self GiantsBy Wade Lee Hudson

From time to time I ask total strangers about their impressions of the progressive movement. Thus far, without exception, their concerns about certain weaknesses in that movement echo my own.

Last week a young woman got into my taxi and asked what had just happened with the weekly Monday-night protest about the recent killing of a man at a BART subway station by a police officer. I reported that the organizers of the protests had decided to stop disrupting BART service and instead simply distribute leaflets. She replied with a comment about how such disruptions are no way to gain public support.

I said, “Yes. You wonder why it took them so long to figure that out. But when I was young and stupid I took that approach myself.”

She responded, “So did I when I was in college.”

“What issues did you work on?”

“Issues related to education.”

“Are you still engaged in activism?”

“No. I’m not.”

“Do you wish you were?”

“Yes, I definitely do.”

“What might prompt you or encourage you to get engaged?”

“I’m not sure. That’s a good question.”

Then after a long silence during which she seemed to reflect on that question, I asked, “Is there something about the approach taken by activists that discourages you?”

With strong feeling she immediately responded, “Yes. Self-righteousness. Seeing everything in black and white. Taking the hard line.”

I then told her about my own work on these issues and she thanked me profusely for asking her those questions. She then talked about having volunteered in a program for homeless children but having got burned out after devoting several hours a week to that stressful project.

As she left my taxi, she thanked me again for my questions and said she’d be thinking about them.

Two nights later, another passenger initiated a conversation about the Sixties. She commented on how there is less activism today and people seem more “self-protective.” She said she was still somewhat active.

When I asked her if there is something about how activists operate that discourages non-activists from becoming active, she quickly said, “Adopting a very angry and antagonistic stance, rather than one that is positive and proactive.”

Those interactions reveal real problems with traditional activism and touch on tensions that are difficult to resolve. On the one hand, passionate true believers with a hard line can recruit enough people to launch a project and get media attention. Soon, however, they reach a plateau and find they need more support from the mainstream in order to change public policy, but their militant methods alienate the mainstream, whose support is critical.

My interest is with encouraging the development of new strategies that could attract disaffected concerned individuals like my taxi passengers and greatly increase the number of people engaged in activism. My goal is not to persuade militants to change. They have a role to play. Liberals and radicals need each other.

Recently I’ve focused on “compassionate politics” with an emphasis on achieving long-term systemic transformation through steady short-term incremental reforms. To my mind, to transform our social system, we must simultaneously change our institutions, our cultures, and ourselves. This process therefore necessarily involves ongoing personal growth, which many consider spiritual.

One form of self-improvement that seems critical to address is the arrogance to which my taxi passengers referred.

It is my belief that activist organizations need to consciously foster the growth of supportive communities that are clearly, explicitly dedicated to self-development as well as political action.

But finding progressive-minded people with whom I can collaborate on these issues is not easy. With their focus on the outer world of public policy, progressive political activists largely ignore the inner world of spirit and feelings and build organizations that are impersonal machines. They seem to think that their passion and their ideas will suffice.

And individuals who are engaged in personal or spiritual development shy away from politics.

So I’m beginning to seriously wonder if I should shift my methodology somehow. I’m definitely open to new ideas.

Many political activists are becoming more open about their dedication to personal/spiritual growth. Perhaps some day these seeds will bloom and caring progressive communities dedicated to both personal growth and political action will flourish.


I published a slightly different version of this essay on Wade’s Weekly on September 4, 2011.

Ronald Dworkin on Law, Morality, and Economics

dworkin_1-110713_jpg_600x624_q85The New York Review of Books continues to be my favorite magazine. It’s the only one I read regularly. Their 50th anniversary issue  was particularly rewarding. In that issue, they published “several essays on or by writers and artists whose work meant something to us when we started.” One of these essays was “Law from the Inside Out” by Ronald Dworkin, in which he reflected on the development of his thinking from the very concrete to the abstract. This progression led him to integrate “concrete legal issues, questions of personal ethics and morality, broad political issues of social policy, and the most abstract, rarefied philosophical and metaphysical puzzles.” His conclusion was that these issues are interconnected and cannot be separated.

Early on he addressed “how courts should interpret the abstract constitutional language” and “how should judges decide what the law of some nation really is on some particular subject?” One particularly influential theory of law, legal positivism, has answered “that what the law is on some subject in no way depends on what the law ought to be.” Rather, according to this perspective, “what the law is depends … not on morality, but only on history: on what people given the appropriate authority have declared it to be.”

This approach is rooted in “anti-realism in moral theory,” which is based on “a more general theory of truth we might call ‘scientism’.”

This holds that the methods of the physical sciences provide the gold standard for any investigation, that only when these methods are available is it proper to speak of truth. According to scientism, once we see that moral argument is not amenable to scientific methods, we must abandon the idea that there is truth in morality.

Dworkin argued that this philosophy

provides only an incompetent description of the actual practice of law. Lawyers and judges typically make claims about what the law actually is that cannot be thought to be grounded just in what authoritative bodies have previously declared…. [And] a judge who sentenced a defendant to jail while admitting that the judge’s own view of the law is only an emotional expression would probably be sent to jail himself.

He pointed out that “it assumes that we share the concept of law the way we share the concept of a triangle, that is, that we all agree on the tests to use to decide whether a legal claim is true or false. But we do not.” As an alternative, he presented what he called “an interpretative theory of law” and declared, “What law is cannot be separated completely from what it should be.”

According to this theory, “An interpretation must fit the data—it must fit the practices and history it claims to interpret—but it must also provide a justification for those practices. It must, as I sometimes put it, show the practice in its best light.”

Identifying what law is therefore requires “some justification, however weak, in political morality,” which is also required in “other domains of interpretation,” such as “artistic and literary interpretation.” He tried to “show how the ‘value’ theory of interpretation illuminates the agreements and conflicts among critics in all these domains.”

However, Dworkin reported, “Most influential moral philosophers have denied this. They insist that claims about morality … are not really judgments and so cannot be either true or false.”

Dworkin considered this “anti-realist” view to be logically incoherent. He nailed his case with this brilliant summation:

Consider the proposition that rich people have no moral duty to help the poor of their own community. If that proposition is not true, then it is not true that rich people have that duty, and that is itself a moral claim. If no moral claim can be true or false, then that one can’t be true either, so anti-realism is self-defeating.

But if one agrees

there is truth in morality and politics and therefore in law. It remains to ask what truth there is. What is a life well-lived? What duties do we owe as individuals to other individuals? What duties do we collectively owe to others in politics? What is justice? Liberty? Equality? Democracy?

Dworkin answered with “two fundamental principles that I believe can provide the most coherent and attractive answers to all these questions.” These principles, the most important element in his essay, were:

First, that it is objectively important—important from everyone’s point of view—that each human life succeeds rather than fails: that people live well. Second, that each person has a fundamental, inalienable responsibility to take charge of his or her own life: that it is finally up to that person to decide what living well would mean and to pursue that life.

He then rephrased these principles in the following manner:

I argued, relying on Immanuel Kant’s thesis that no one respects his own humanity who does not respect humanity in other people, that we can define what we owe to other people as part of what we owe to ourselves. The key is the idea of dignity: it belongs to our own dignity to respect the dignity of other people.

What is fundamental to private morality, Dworkin argued, forms “the spine of public political morality as well.” He then applies this principle to economics with this insight:

We achieve true economic equality, for example, not when everyone has the same wealth, no matter what decisions he has made in the course of his life, but when what one has depends only on those decisions, and not on good or bad luck in health, accident, or inheritance. That idea of equality ties together the moral ideal of personal responsibility and the political ideals of distributive justice.

Never have I seen such an important incisive overview of how the philosophy of truth, morality, politics, and economics must all be addressed simultaneously, with clear thinking and compassion.