Comments on Divine Fury: A History of Genius

In “Wonder Boys?”,  a review of Divine Fury: A History of Genius by Darrin M. McMahon in the October 9, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books, Tamsin Shaw explores the nature of human consciousness, the notion of “genius,” and its relationship with the cosmos, or God.

Early on Shaw introduces the issue by considering the proposition that the universe is indifferent to the fate of humanity by quoting a parable posed by Friedrich Nietzsche:

In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in the innumerable solar systems, there was once a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of “world history”—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

Shaw responds, “This picture of cosmic insignificance is what the idea of genius has repeatedly challenged.” He says:

The genius, on this understanding, answers the human demand for what Thomas Nagel has called the “yearning for cosmic reconciliation,” that is, for a way of living in harmony (being connected “intelligibly and, if possible, satisfyingly”) with the whole of reality…. The genius has provided us [a way] that permits us to see ourselves, in however attenuated a sense, as the point of it all….

According to Shaw, the transcendental idealist tradition in philosophy, founded by Immanuel Kant, “gave rise to a notion of genius that unified the human mind and nature in a distinctive way.”

Kant had argued that Newtonian physics could not explain how complex, self-organizing life forms such as plants and animals could come into existence. Human artifacts with complex mechanisms have an external cause, but plants and animals appear to be self-organizing and self-maintaining. Kant suggested that the best way to describe them was as if they were behaving with an inner purposiveness (emphasis added)….

Kant saw the same kind of process in the work of the artist. Beauty in a work of art consisted for him in the ability to stimulate a pleasurable interaction between our understanding and our imagination, a state of free play that could not be captured by any determinate concept…. Artistic genius connected us in a deep way with nature.

The early Romantics seized on the idea of an organism as a means of describing nature not as a machine but as a living force,… The mental and the physical were understood as manifestations of the same underlying force generating the infinitely complex, self-organizing structure that was the cosmos. Human creativity was continuous with this self-organization but it had a special status as the point at which the whole process achieved self-consciousness.

The Kantian concern with the beautiful was eclipsed by his notion of the sublime. …[T]he mind can grasp infinities that our senses cannot show us. Beethoven was the artist who, above all others, conjured this feeling of confronting titanic forces and yet soaring above them, exalted.

Shaw then considers controversies in physics and mathematics concerning whether “the relationship between the mental and the physical could be modeled as a mind comprehending an objectively existing external reality,” or whether “any explanation of the natural order must ultimately have a physical basis.” Shaw holds out hope that the universe is not indifferent to humanity and that human consciousness is not determined by physical causes.

But unless physicalist naturalism succeeds in explaining how the cosmos can contain conscious creatures for whom the universe is intelligible, there will be those who hold out hope of an alternative. Thomas Nagel, one of the few philosophers today holding onto such hope, implies that we in fact have an ethical obligation to understand our deep relation to the cosmos, because “in each of us, the universe has come to consciousness.” As Schlegel said, we are nature looking back at itself. But many more geniuses would be required for us to uncover what this really means.

To my mind, this perspective implies that God is personal, because the Mystery that structures and energizes life has fostered human consciousness.

Shaw argues that an underlying unity is reflected in the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, in whom “we have found an artistic genius to make that abstract order resound with human emotion.”

The formal qualities of these works, the internal logic of counterpoint and harmony, are dazzling. But at the same time they somehow express authentic human emotions. Objective abstract order and subjective human experience are mysteriously in harmony….

He says, “Bach, it seems, has kept alive for a few the faith that genius might vindicate the human mind from the perspective of the universe,” which, according to many, is indifferent to humanity.

Shaw concludes:

We are relentlessly destroying the only known life-supporting planet in our solar system. The human mind may yet render itself absurd without any help from the cosmos…. Our “baby Einsteins,” every one of their emerging minds a miracle, justify to their parents all of conscious human existence. We must hope they can find new “possibilities of being” for themselves.

Once I asked Ajahn Amaro, the Buddhist monk, what he would like to learn. He replied, “How human consciousness emerged.” The same mystery applies to the emergence of life itself. Scientists still have not develop a definitive answer to either question.

Until they do, if they do, we can only relish the Mystery. We may not be “the point of it all,” as Shaw put it. Just how “special” our status may be is unknown. All we know for certain is that we are wonderful creatures and life is beautiful.

Fellowship Church: August 24, 2014

The August 24 service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples included the following.

Readying the Spirit featured a piano prelude by Dr. Carl Blake.

Ingathering of Community included this responsive reading from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference:

A Litany For Children Slain By Violence and Traumatized By Those Called to “Serve and Protect”
August 17, 2014

Leader: A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.

Assembly: We pray for the families of children who have been slain by gun violence, left to die on streets with less dignity than is given to animals.

Leader: A sound is heard in every city. Communities are weeping generationally for their children. Our sons, like Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown and John Crawford. Our daughters, like Ayanna Jones, Miriam Carey, Malisa Williams and Tarika Wilson.

Assembly: As people of God, we weep for the lives of all children who instead of enjoying the sweetness of innocence become victims of hate, victims of war, and victims of violence.

Leader: Now, let us rise up and interrupt these rushing waters of violence that leave children and communities wounded and paralyzed, traumatized by internal disintegration and state terror. Let us rise up and demand this nation abandon its affair with beliefs, practices and laws that are rooted in militarism, justified by racism and propped up by systemic inequities.

Assembly: We will rise up against laws rooted in evil that have no concern for life, nor any concern for God’s love. We will rise up until justice rolls on like a river and righteousness like a never failing stream.

Leader: Oh Lord, we commit ourselves to seeing all children the way that you see them. No matter their age or race, they are precious gifts made in your image, created with transformative purpose and unlimited promise.

Assembly: And for that cause, we pledge to be hedges of protection for their lives, we pledge to stand against anything that threatens their potential or promise.

All: We embody the universal spirit of Ubuntu, “I am because we are and because we are, I am.” We are all Rachel crying for the children! Therefore, we pledge to lock arms in solidarity with the families of the slain. We pledge to let our voices be heard all over this nation and the world, for we know we are called to do what is just and right.

Practicing the Presence included this Meditation from Wade Hudson:

On August 3rd Rev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson’s offered a very thought-provoking sermon here. He recommended cultivating “intimate direct action” by traveling the Four Roads to Intimacy: Move away from self-deception and really get to know yourself; Utilize solitude; Establish a strong sense of community; and then without fear experience intimacy, or the “uncircumscribed engagement in the world.”

Webster’s defines “intimate” as “belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature.” As I see it, intimacy involves “speaking from the heart.”

What does “speak from the heart” mean to you? [Members of the congregation offered some answers.]

I googled “speaking from the heart” and the top result said “Ask yourself: is what you’re saying coming from your analytical mind or your intuitive heart?” and “Know that speaking from the heart doesn’t mean getting carried away by your emotions.”

I think of speaking from the heart as a blend of speaking from the gut and speaking from the intellect. After all, the heart is half way between the gut and the brain.

But an intimate conversation involves more than speaking. It also involves being a good listener.

What does being a good listener mean to you? [Members of the congregation offered some responses.]

Also, to my mind, I am not a particularly good listener when I immediately respond to someone with something like, “I hear you. The same thing happened to me,” and then proceed to talk about myself.

We have good reasons for being reserved, for not being more transparent. For one thing, what we say might be used against us. Teachers and bosses punish us for saying what they don’t want to hear. So we learn to be guarded and it becomes a habit.

Howard Thurman, however, affirmed Gandhi’s maxim, “Speak the truth, without fear and without exception” and Thurman wrote, “Be simply, directly truthful, whatever may be the cost.” I don’t know if I can ever live up to that standard. I would, however, like to move in that direction.

How many intimate friends do you have with whom you at least weekly discuss highly personal matters, problems as well as joys? Would you like to have more intimate friends? How many of those friends belong to Fellowship Church? Would you like to have more who are?

If we want to grow a strong sense of community, as recommended by Rev. Johnson, do we need to nurture more intimacy with one another? If so, how might we do that, either during the social hour or at other times during the week? Some questions for reflection.

Maybe, if we make more of a conscious effort, we can practice more fully what Dr. Thurman preached.

Resting in the Presence included a sermon by Dr. Kathryn Benton reflecting on the following quote from John Lennon:

There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.

Offering Our Gifts included Announcements by Elanor Piez, Church Treasurer.

Sending Forth included this poem by Rev. Takashi Tanemori:

We can create our lives by
Transforming our experience
Into something new,
Like a butterfly soaring freely
Into the splendor.

Meditation Idea: 8/20 Draft

NOTE: Following is a Meditation that I may give at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples.

The sermon that Rev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson offered on August 3rd was very thought-provoking. He recommended cultivating “intimate direct action” by traveling “Four Roads to Intimacy.” The first road is to move away from self-deception and “know yourself better than anyone else.” The second is to utilize “solitude.” The third is to establish strong “kinship,” or a sense of community. The fourth is to then experience “intimacy,” or “the uncircumscribed engagement in the world,” without fear.

Webster’s defines “intimate” as “belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature.” An intimate conversation therefore is one that comes from your deepest nature.

How many intimate friends do you have with whom you discuss highly personal matters, your joys and your troubles, at least weekly?

As I see it, intimacy involves “speaking from the heart.” What does “to speak from the heart” mean to you? [Allow for answers from the congregation; respond to those comments.]

I googled “speaking from the heart” and the top result said “Ask yourself: is what you’re saying coming from your analytical mind or your intuitive heart?” and “Know that speaking from the heart doesn’t mean getting carried away by your emotions.”

I think of speaking from the heart as a blend of speaking from the gut and speaking from the mind. After all, the heart is in between the gut and the heart.

But an intimate conversation involves more than speaking. It also involves being a good listener.

What does being a good listener mean to you? [Allow for answers from the congregation; respond to those comments.]

Also, to my mind, I am not a particularly good listener when I immediately respond to someone with something like, “I hear you. The same thing happened to me,” and then proceed to talk about myself. I find that kind of response to be far too common.

We have good reasons for being reserved, for not being more transparent. I don’t fully understand those reasons. I’m trying to better understand them. One factor seems to be that what we say might be used against us. Teachers and bosses punish us for saying what they don’t want to hear. Partly for that reason, we learn to be guarded and it becomes a habit. That is understandable.

Howard Thurman, however, affirmed Gandhi’s maxim, “Speak the truth, without fear and without exception” and wrote, “Be simply, directly truthful, whatever may be the cost.” I don’t know if I could ever live up to that standard. I would, however, like to move in that direction.

Most conversations strike me as a series of monologues, telling stories, gossiping, superficial chit-chat, or intellectual discourse. They rarely involving speaking and listening from the heart.

So let me ask again, How many intimate friends do you have with whom you discuss highly personal matters at least weekly?

How many of those friends belong to Fellowship Church?

If we want to grow a strong sense of community, as recommended by Rev. Johnson, do we need to nurture more intimacy with one another? If so, how might we do that, either during the social hour or at other times during the week?

Maybe, if we make more of a conscious effort, we can practice more fully what Dr. Thurman preached.


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

Fellowship Church: “Intimate Direct Action”

Charles JohnsonRev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson, a semi-retired Unitarian Universalist minister currently engaged in doctoral work on “The Transformation of Shame” at the Graduate Theological Union, presented the August 3 sermon at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. He opened with a quote from Vincent Van Gogh letter to his brother Theo:

…It is better to be high-spirited, even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love, is well done.

Johnson then riffed on the tension between “the one and the many” and urged the parishioners to “love many things” rather than allowing others to impose a single perspective on oneself, or trying to do the same to others.

He recounted how when Dr. Howard Thurman served as Dean of Chapel at Howard University in Washington, DC (from 1932 to 1944 before leaving to co-found Fellowship Church in San Francisco) students told him that they were expecting a “Moses” but that he seemed to be a “mystic.” Thurman replied, “Just remember. The inside and the outside are one.”

Johnson declared that our calling is to avoid “false guides” and “groupthink,” and “live a genuine life.” But, he asked, “How can you know if it is genuine? How do we seek a genuine life?” His response was to recommend “intimate direct action” by the following “Four Roads to Intimacy”:

The first road, he said, is to move away from “self-veiling,” or self-deception. Remove your masks, your social roles, and “know yourself better than anyone else.”

The second road is to aid the process of self-knowledge by utilizing “solitude” and introspection. One advantage of marriage, he said, is that it can “protect solitude.”

The third road is to establish strong “kinship,” or a sense of community. “We were made for belonging,” Johnson affirmed.

The fourth road is to experience “intimacy” or “the uncircumscribed engagement in the world,” without fear.

With this approach, he asserted, in his conclusion, we can resist the pressure from “the system” to impose “oneness.” We can “love many things,” knowing that others will say, “well done.”

I resonated strongly with Johnson’s sermon. It touched directly on what has become a major concern of mine: the need for deeper human connections. I would have welcomed more suggestions about how to achieve that goal.

On the back page, the program for the day included:

• The average attendance for July was 24 and average receipts each Sunday were $741.
• The next film to be shown in the Second Sunday Social Justice Film Series will be on Sunday August 10 after the social hour. We will be watching a chapter from Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone’s widely acclaimed, 13-part Untold History of the United States. We hope you can join us.
• The program closed with a verse from Rumi:

Search, no matter what situation you are in.
O thirsty one, search for water constantly.
Finally, the time will come when you will reach the spring.

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



Transform and “Oneness”

The July 15 Transform: Spirituality and Social Change class focused on “oneness.” Conducted by Liza Rankow, it was another stimulating and rewarding event. A diverse group of sixteen individuals participated. As with the Faith and Feet training last weekend, three-fourths of the participants were women.

As I discussed in “Faith and Feet Reflections,” I failed to hear much self-criticism at that training. Last night, however, I heard more acknowledgement of personal weakness. In the full group, one participant referred to his falling short in his efforts to truly love others. One revealed a serious health issue. In my small breakout group which discussed “What does this worldview demand of you in your daily life,” participants spoke of their struggles with empathizing too strongly with the pain of others, reacting with too much anger at the actions of others, and becoming too self-centered. These and other instances of honest self-revelation were heartening, for I find the common reluctance to be open unfortunate.

One participant spoke honestly about his not understanding the key concept of oneness. “I get interconnectedness,” he said. “But I still feel separate. It’s still me acting.” I tried to help clarify the paradox by discussing my understanding of the difference between a distinction and a dichotomy (which separates). We can be full, distinct selves and still be at one with the universe. Afterwards, it struck me that I could have discussed my sense of being infused with that which I call “the Mystery that energizes and structures the universe,” or what others have called “the life force.” We can feel in harmony with that force and committed to honor its purpose: to evolve. Then, just now, I consulted the dictionary and found two helpful definitions for oneness: “the fact or state of being unified or whole, though comprised of two or more parts,” and “the state of being completely united with or a part of someone or something.” Regardless, the issue raised by that participant is crucial. It seems that we need to work on how to communicate more clearly our sense of oneness in a way to nurtures a “both-and” perspective rather than “either-or.”

For me, it does not work to say, as one participant did, “Ultimately we’re creating this oasis within ourselves.” That statement reminds me of Rumi’s, “There is no need to go outside.” That perspective is common among mystics. But those statements strike me as too individualistic. When I go inside I go outside automatically. And I feel that I am co-creating a communal oasis with the Great Spirit and my fellow humans in community.

At the moment, that co-creation is largely informal. The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples does provide me with some sustenance. But as I discussed in “A Meditation on Deep Community,” I would prefer a more intentional structure that provides a safe haven that nurtures deep spiritual growth, including a commitment to changing root causes of suffering, including national policy.

In my forthcoming book, My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography, I discuss that issue extensively and suggest twelve concrete, practical steps for how we can move in that direction. But the dehumanizing forces of modernization are so powerful, I do not expect that kind of holistic organizing to flourish. Reporting on one’s honest self-examination to others, even if with trusted allies, can be a difficult barrier that most people decline to cross. As James Baldwin said:

A day will come when you will trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. We will trust each other. I do believe, I really do believe in the New Jerusalem. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet ready to pay.

But who knows? Maybe even within my lifetime I will be surprised. I did note some glimmers of hope in last night’s class.

In the meantime, I’ll try to be open, available, and responsive, and will continue to explore what others are doing, such as Generation Waking Up. I learned about that project from Joshua Gorman at last week’s Transform class and plan to participate in their intergenerational WakeUp Experience with artists, changemakers, and passion-filled community members of all ages Thursday, July 24, 6:30 pm, Humanist Hall 390 27th Street in Oakland.

Their impressive website, which affirms changing “the system,” declares:

Across cultures and generations, we are forming a planet-wide ‘Movement of movements’ including every issue, approach, and sector of society that is remaking our world…. Our generation’s calling is clear: to create a thriving, just, sustainable world that works for all, we must take bold and systemic action to transform our whole society.

Their post on a workshop “Collective Liberation in Boston” reports:

Through both critical theory and experiential processes, they inquired deeply into what it will take to shift from chaos and disconnection to diverse, thriving community, and how to inspire political, cultural, and social transformations to make the vision of anti­-oppression and community a reality. Barbara drew the experiential content from Joanna Macy’s powerful body of work, the Work that Reconnects. The Work that Reconnects draws from deep ecology, systems theory, and spiritual traditions to build motivation, creativity, courage and solidarity for the transition to a sustainable human culture.

Though I find this project encouraging, I did note one item that concerns me. The site also quotes Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

The use of the word “never” is the first red flag. Absolute terms are usually a sign of sloppy thinking.

But more fundamentally, Gandhi and King would never have made that statement. I prefer the Gandhi-King approach. Nevertheless, I’ll go to the July 24 WakeUp Experience with abundant curiosity.

Faith & Feet Reflections

After participating in a 12-hour training with Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a nationally-known trainer, organizer, and author of a new book titled Faith-rooted Organizing, I sent the following email to Rev. Deborah Lee, who works with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, a co-sponsor of the training.

“Faith-rooted” activists are out front about their faith, whereas “faith-based” organizing merely uses traditional secular methods to organize members of spiritual communities.


Dear Deborah,

Thanks again for a wonderful training in faith-rooted organizing. I found the twelve hours to be very beneficial. Because I deeply appreciate the direction you, Alexia, and the others are taking, I asked Alexia to inform me about how I can keep in touch with future developments concerning with her “un-network network.”

One important dimension seemed to be missing, however. In the Sunday night report back, Vanessa Riles commented on the urgent need to address “internalized oppression.” The written report from that group articulated this question, “How do we support each other in having deeper faith?” I don’t believe the training responded to those urgent matters.

As I see it, we need to deal with those issues not merely with “leadership development” (as the CLUE approach does). We also need to openly encourage all of our members to address those issues and offer them user-friendly tools that can help in that regard – tools that can be easily replicated by others elsewhere. We need to address spiritual needs as well as economic needs.

My interpretation of original sin, crucifixion, and resurrection is that human beings are essentially flawed, limited, and afflicted with contradictions. We inevitably “trespass” against others. To minimize those transgressions, we need to acknowledge our mistakes, at times face-to-face. If we do, we can grow spiritually and in certain ways become like new, or reborn. She not busy being born is busy dying. Crucifixion and resurrection are two sides of the same coin.

Activists are guilty of many sins in terms of how they treat one another, the general public, and themselves. We need to do more than learn how to communicate more effectively. We also need to learn how to actualize ourselves more fully and minimize those mistakes. As Van Jones once said, “We need to be more confessional and less pro-fessional.”

This commitment to self-examination and self-criticism is key to my spiritual faith. I believe spiritual activists need to be out-front and up-front about a commitment to fostering spiritual growth with one another.

On my way home, I read the last chapter of Alexia’s book. It talks about providing spiritual sustenance to the staff. And I see that faith-rooted organizing uses spiritual rituals in its public events. That’s all well and good. Those activities are designed to help with burnout and discouragement. They provide spiritual comfort.

But spiritual growth is not always so easy. It often requires painful introspection. I heard nothing about that during our twelve hours and I saw nothing about it in the last chapter of that book, where it would have fit. I find this lack a serious deficit in your approach.

If I am wrong about my impressions, please correct my misunderstanding. Otherwise, I urge you to consider deepening your approach.

I attach the Meditation that I presented at the Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples Sunday. It touches on some of those issues.

Feel free to share this with Alexia.

Keeping faith,

A Meditation on Deep Community

Earlier today, during the Meditation segment of the Sunday morning worship service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, I presented the following:

Fellow members of the priesthood of all believers, good morning.

Writing my autobiography led me to reflect on what I really want. I concluded that what I really want is deep community. So I titled the book, My Search for Deep Community.

My first experience with deep community was the civil rights movement, which was committed to reforming national policy from a holistic attitude that affirmed the whole person. As Gandhi’s movement was rooted in a spiritual community dedicated to the self-development of its members, the civil rights movement was rooted in the Black Church whose members supported one another in a joyous, profound celebration of life. Us white folks weren’t merely fighting for the rights of African-Americans. We were fighting to help one another save our souls by attacking a major root cause of injustice: the government in Washington.

I would like to experience deep community again. So I decided to increase my commitment to Fellowship Church. Given the history of this church, I figure there’s no better foundation for my search.

• When we go down deep to the ground of our being, we automatically engage with all humanity and all life. We drop our masks. We get down to who we really are: a human being interwoven with all reality.
• When we get down to that ground, we don’t stand alone. Our roots are interwoven with other roots.
• So when others suffer we suffer and we want to help relieve that suffering.
• Relieving suffering requires addressing root causes, getting deep.
• Addressing root causes requires correcting national policies that are the source of so much suffering.
• If we see a child drowning, we don’t tell her to pray. We change her environment.
• Changing those national policies requires building massive popular power by expanding the beloved community so that its reach is larger, which will enable its roots to grow more deeply.
• Building that power requires a long-term vision of how we can fundamentally restructure our society into a compassionate, truly democratic community.
• That restructuring requires a strategy for building momentum by achieving winnable objectives. That was key to the Gandhi-King strategy: a focus on winnable objectives. We can build on and reform what we have rather than trying to tear it down and start over.
• Even when our Congresspersons usually vote the way we want them to vote, there’s still more they can do to use their office as an organizing tool to help build local support for evolutionary revolution. We can talk with them about how we can do that together.
• We have majority support on many important issues, but so far we’ve been unable to persuade Congress to respect the will of the people.
• Building national power will require an improvement in how activists organize, how they relate to one another and the general public.
• That improvement requires ongoing personal growth rooted deeply in the willingness to examine oneself honestly, admit mistakes, and resolve to avoid them in the future.
• That growth requires peer support. Due to the fragmented, frantic, dehumanized nature of modern society, providing mutual support often requires intentional, conscious effort. We need to set aside special time to share a meal, really listen to each other report on our efforts, enjoy each other’s company, have fun together, and brainstorm about how to move forward.
• Without jeopardizing their tax status, non-profit organizations can support their members in making their own decisions about what action to take.
• Growing a national deep community will be enhanced if we develop user-friendly tools, like Alcoholics Anonymous did, that concerned individuals, without going through any elaborate training, can easily use to meet the unmet need for deep connection.
• With those tools, the number of deep communities could spread rapidly.
• Knowing that others were using the same tools would deepen the sense of community.

So that is what I mean by deep community: growing deep roots personally, socially, and politically.

I don’t need deep community to be happy. I can be happy meditating, hanging out with Giants fans, and getting a massage once a month. But I do need deep community to be fulfilled, to become ever more fully who I really am. I feel it is my duty to foster deep community.

But I’ve decided to stop trying to make it happen. Trying to force it doesn’t work.

So I don’t plan to initiate any more formal projects. Rather, I’ll informally study, engage in dialogs, listen carefully, really listen, and write, while remaining open to any invitations from fellow peers to collaborate as equals in efforts to build deep community.

What do I mean by a “peer relationship”? I mean one in which no party considers herself or himself to be superior or inferior, tries to dominate or is willing to submit.

That’s part of what I understand to be a priesthood of all believers. Because I feel that mutual respect here at Fellowship Church, I thank you for the opportunity to commune with you, as we pursue truth, justice, and beauty.