I wrote this as part of a messaging campaign inspired by Brian McLaren called We Stand with Love, seeking to counter the hateful rhetoric of the presidential election cycle with intentional loving action. This post first appeared here.
“Justice is what love looks like in public.” -Cornell West
Our contemplative tradition in Christianity teaches us how to extend our range of awareness beyond our family, our friends, and our community. The practice builds our capacity to extend our compassion to the suffering of those we have not and will never meet. This practice rebuilds our awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. And within that deep interconnectedness we find solidarity with the pain of the world.
Solidarity can be defined as “unity born of mutual interest.” As people of faith we are uniquely equipped with the inner and contemplative tools to expand our capacity to discover and live into a mutual interest for the liberation of the most vulnerable and oppressed. But the Church is so often silent to the suffering of those outside of our four walls because we aren’t doing our inner work, so we’ve lost touch with the wider Body of Christ.
The disease that is so talked about in the Bible, leprosy, is the decay that happens when we can’t feel parts of the body. Our culture and our Church has leprosy, and it is systemic. Oppression is systemic and structural so in order to stand in solidarity we need to love systemically and love structurally. May we make that commitment again each day to stand with Love.
Holly Roach curates the contemplative track at Wild Goose Festival and produces a day-long, pre-festival event called Mystic Action Camp that brings elder contemplative teachers together with social change practitioners. Holly is a long-time activist and is throwing all of her being into countering Trump with Love this fall.
“Justice is the outflow of the broken heart.” James Finley
I have been an activist longer than I have been a Christian. I always get a laugh when I say that I broke up with Jesus in high school. But like any break up, it was painful and losing my faith was no party. Fast forward 20 years of activism and I found myself having a “dark night of the soul” and grieving my mother after her passing. During that time a friend gave me a book by Rob Bell and I encountered another kind of Christianity, one I felt I could be a part of again. I called my sister in tears and said, “Jen, I think I can call myself a Christian again.” She replied, “Honey, you have always been a Christian, you just let other people define that for you.” It was as if no wiser words had ever been said. And that marked the beginning of my quest to find healthy expressions of Christianity in the world that I could join in on.
So, I spent the next year tracking the Emergent Church Conversation. If you aren’t familiar with it, the Emergent Church includes such authors as Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle and Tony Jones. It’s a post-modern church movement that allowed space for doubt and the deconstruction of faith. But a movement can only deconstruct so long before it tears itself apart, so eventually it’s light and influence waned. Many of us have since found the contemplative lens and theory of spiral dynamics, but some among us deconstructed themselves right out of their own faith and became secular humanists and atheists. For me, the Emergent Church version of Christianity led to me to being able to integrate my faith and my activism.
So when I encountered Living School, I had lost and rekindled my Christian faith, and had integrated my activism and faith intellectually. I had even started a Bible study and two of the folks from this group moved into my house. We were having a bit of a beloved community experience, but it was the practices and contemplative framework that the Living School gave me that actually integrated my faith and activism.
I admittedly come to this work on the action end of the spectrum. Most often contemplative teachings come from the lens of the inner experience. But Rohr taught in our most recent Living School module on Prophecy and Justice, that contemplatives don’t always start from the inner experience, but often come to the practice seeking healing from having been in struggles against oppression in the world. He said that many people who, “enter into the pain of society, have to go to God to find rest for the soul.” I am one of those souls who came to the contemplative practice weary and needing renewal in order to keep working for justice.
So, I come to the practice through action in the external world. Namely, when my action is not reflecting, nor in alignment with my faith, engaging in contemplative practice enables me to manage my inner state which then results in my increased ability to choose better action. My inner experience also heals and renews me and readies me to continue on in my work with justice movements.
I’d like to share a few ways that the contemplative has changed my activism and made me a better activist.
1. Waking up to the Body Just five years ago, if we were somehow able to round up all the oppressors (the target of your justice campaign) and those complicit in systemics of violence and put them all on an island, drop a nuclear bomb on that island, I would have been fine with that. And I would have thought the world a better place because it. Not anymore.
The contemplative has given me a feeling for the oppressor where I was once numb to their humanity. My mentor, Rev Alexia Salvatierra, teaches about how leprosy, a disease referenced often by Jesus in the Bible, is an affliction where the person is unable to feel pain in parts of their body or acknowledge the wounds festering there. She says that as the body of Christ, we have leprosy if we don’t feel the pain present in the human experience that we are not directly affected by. So, by this definition, I had leprosy and was unwilling to face the pain of the oppressors in the world.
2. Dove and Serpent Power My mentor, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, teaches about dove and serpent power (from Matthew 10:16) in her book “Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World.” She teaches that dove power is seeing the divine in the oppressor and inviting them to operate from that place. To invoke dove power in an opponent in social justice work is to invite them to make decisions from their own divinely connected self. You have to see the opponent as their divinely connected self and then hold them to it.
When it comes to opposing systems of oppression we have to look for the people upholding those systems, see their divinely connected self, call upon them to divest from the system upholding oppression and love them through the transition.
So, this work becomes about being in relationship with oppressors so that perhaps, through being in relationship with a transformative movement, God can transform their hearts. Where I once sought to cut out the oppressor, I now seek to love and transform them. By being able to sit with accept my own pain, through contemplative practice, I have an increased ability to sit with and accept oppression. This ability to sit in acceptance has given me a vantage point where I can see the humanity in the perpetrator of acts of violence and oppression.
Rev. Salvatierra also teaches about harnessing the power of the serpent. She teaches that to engage serpent power is to accept the shadow side of human nature, to anticipate and to plan for it. So, while the work is to hold the divinity of the oppressor, to get there, you have to first accept the serpent nature of the oppressor (and let’s not forget the serpent nature of ourselves). But serpent power is always coupled with dove power – where we simultaneously acknowledge and accept the shadow in the other (serpent power) while calling forth the divine self (dove power) of the oppressor, ultimately seeking to transform them and their actions.
3. The Inner Witness Numerous contemplative traditions speak to the ability of the (contemplative) practice to strengthen the presence of the “inner witness.” By developing the inner witness, one has the ability to monitor the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and impulses of the inner experience and the subsequent ability to choose how to respond, without being ruled by the egoic self.
This inner witness has helped me to become aware of my motivations. One dilemma is discerning the difference between a kairos moment and a need of the ego. A kairos moment is a moment of God’s truth being expressed through human consciousness. Perhaps you know this moment. This is the moment when we can’t not [note to editor: italicize or bold] speak up, because to fail to do so would be to limit the power of truth coming through us. In the Christian tradition, this is the prophetic voice, which sees the world as it is in relationship to how it could be (the kingdom of God), and the call to action to transform it.
The inner witness has the ability to discern between the voice of ego, the need for acknowledgement, acceptance, or to assert power or dominance, and the voice of the kairos moment.
4. The Ability to Wait and Discern A major change to my activism is the contemplative posture that allows me to wait. When a pathway is blocked I learned to allow spirit, time and circumstances to change, rather than busting through obstacles, which often mirrors the violence and oppression that we seek to heal. Rev Dr William Barber, founder and architect of the Moral Monday/Forward Together Movement in North Carolina, says that to do this work we need to, “…leave a screw loose,” to leave room for the Holy Spirit to move in and among us in our work for justice. Waiting is one way that I leave room for spirit to move in and inform my activism.
5. The Willingness to be Wrong Social change is full of difference. Different kinds of people, cultures, communities, tactics, theories of change, strategies and methods. The left is always getting hammered for the exent of in-fighting and intolerance to difference exhibited in different leftists movements. This pervasive challenge on the left is largely due to the ego’s dislike and perceived threat when faced with great plurality.
So the contemplative practice is such a wonderful tool for limiting our identification with ego and our ability to notice the impulses of the ego while not giving voice to it. With the ego in check I can exhibit a willingness to be wrong. I can say what I think, but I can also get out of the way and try a new way because being wrong is no longer the worst thing that can happen. With this posture the world becomes a laboratory and every act is an experiment or pehaps an adventure. We learn something each time and being wrong is often part of that experience. But without the investment of ego, being wrong is simply another lesson and opportunity for growth. This is an area I can see contemplative activism being an agent of resolution and peace in our justice movements.
6. Non-Attachment to the Outcome Activists are highly attatched people and I come to contemplative practice deeply attached to creating outcomes. I wish to see black lives matter in the world. I wish to see corporations and Wall Street be held accountable for their contributions to economic inequality. I am very attached to people making a fair, living wage so when people work full time, they can feed their families and live a good life. I want to see young black men in hoodies, full of possibility of what they can achieve in life, rather than fearing for that very life. I am full of attachment!!
The emotions of attachment fuel the false self and, so, while our hearts may be aching, it’s critical to release the addictive thinking of attachment to outcome. Implicit in attachment is the bias that we know what is right and how to get there. So while our prayers and actions may all be lined up to enact a particular change in the world, we need to “leave a screw loose” and leave room for the Spirit to work. And perhaps the outcome will be greater than we planned. When we live a surrendered life to the will of God, we do what we can as we are called and leave the rest to him.
We are all called to rise in this place and time in history, as people of faith and love and contemplative hearts. We are called to be voices for the oppressed and speak love and grace into the hearts of oppressors. We have the unique tools and skills, which allow us to fight our own egos as much as we fight for justice in the world – with grace and mercy for all God’s creations, both those that generate and those that destroy.
We are a world hurting and wounded seeking transformation. The contemplative tradition and contemplative practice can speak into that hurting in the world with a new-ancient lens–one that can strengthen activist movements, love those that wound while adamantly seeking to change them, and craft a contemplative activism that is desperately needed.
This is a New-Wave of innocence, or as Father Richard calls it a “regained innocence.” It is a reclaimed innocence. We choose to find the loving and cleansed heart of a child with the knowing and unknowing of having come out of the hurts of the world seeking wisdom and transformation,
Let us reclaim our innocence. Let us rise together. Let us embody Contemplative Activism for a world desperately crying for it’s presence. We can hold the tension of the Serpent and the Dove in equal measure–we can see the shadow side and false self in ourselves and others and hold it with open hands and open hearts.
Steve Knight and I taught together for the first time at TransFORM last year in Fort Worth. The workshop was called Challenging White Supremacy. We’re doing it again this year with a few tweaks. We want to make anti-oppression training for white folks in the emergent church really accessible.
We want this to happen so that we can be ready to encounter other movements for change and be ready to work with them in a movement of movements for personal and social transformation.
In order to do this white people need to understand privilege. This workshop will be a safe place to ask questions, express doubts, and be as vulnerable or guarded as you need in facing personal privilege and systemic oppression. If you haven’t gotten down with your social location, this is the one for you.
There are at least two other workshops dealing with race, class and power, at TransFORM.
Marie Onwubuariri is leading a conversation about racial/ethnic self (RES) Awareness as spiritual discipline for missional leadership. This talk is most suited to people already engaged in an awareness of their social location and focuses on how we engage that awareness for spiritual and social transformation.
Kathryn Eckert and Elsie Dennis are going to present an Episopalian view of the doctrine of discovery. The presenters will share their experiences of the Episcopal Church’s process of responding to genocide, white privilege, and cultural/historical ignorance through historical education, spiritual formation, worship, and community development.
This year I am helping to curate the speakers and workshops at the annual Transform Network gathering. As an secular activist from a mainline tradition I have a hard time talking about the missional church to my secular movement friends. In fact the only way I know how to talk about it without invoking oppression born from colonization, is to talk about missional in terms of what it is not. But you can only define things in terms of what they’re not for so long.
The theme that emerged this year is around translating the missional church, (our language, practices and culture) in ways that are accessible, relevant and of service to broader movements for change.
To do this we need to thoughtfully consider and be able to acknowledge the legacy of oppression and Empire that modern day Christians inherit. We want to ask ourselves how we and our institutions are still steeped in empire. How do we disentangle our ministries and faith communities from the tendrils of empire and oppression? What strengths do we have to share with and serve other movements? What do we need to be thinking about in connecting with broader movements for change like Climate Change and Equality movements. Can we become part of a movement of movements and how do we prepare for that kind of intersectional and pluralistic movement engagement as communities of faith? In short, how do we become the church the world needs us to be?”
To guide us we’ve enlisted some pretty smart people of diverse bacgrounds, theologian Joerg Rieger, faith based organizers Alexia Salvatierra and Paul Engler, activists Celia Alario and Gareth Higgins, contemplatives Teresa Pasquale and Rebekah Berndt, radical pastors Peter Matthews and Anthony Smith, community missions leaders Rachel Goble, Dee Yaccino and Kathy Escobar, activist and author Mark VanSteenwyck facilitating an interactive weekend of keynotes and workshops. Not to mention a book party with InterVarsity Press and a Homebrewed Live 3D Podcast with Melvin Bray of the WIld Goose Festival gourmet pizza and beer! Which reminds me of my motto borrowed from anarchist Emma Goldman “If I can’t dance, I don’t wanna be part of your revolution!
Keynotes: —Joerg Rieger – Taking the Church Beyond Empire: Toward Deep Solidarity — Alexia Salvatierra – Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World — Pamela Wilhelms – Living Systems for Change — Paul Engler – Social Justice Organizing Models — Celia Alario – Spiritual Activism: Uniting a Movements of Movements — Gareth Higgins – A New Story Makes A New World
Workshops: — Urban Street Angels Service Outing with Eric Lovett — Sacred Wounds & Healing Spiritual Woundedness with Teresa Pasquale — Privilege Power Shuffle led by Holly Roach and Steve Knight — Contemplative Sex: Learning to let go of judgement, live in the present, and awaken to our god-given desire led by Rebekah Berndt — Contemplative Prayer for the Justice Seeker led by Teresa Pasquale — Christian Responses to Genocide: An Episcopal Perspective led by Kathryn Rickert and Elsie Dennis — Relationships: Cultivating Kingdom Connections for Transformation led by Dee Yaccino — Paradigm Conversion: Nutrition & Wellness in a Corporatocracy led by Allegro Hopkins — SoulEmergence with Anthony Smith & Peter Edward Matthews — The Revolutionary Table of Jesus led by Mark Van Steenwyck — Media Spokesperson Training taught by Celia Alario — Incarnational Communities: Strength & Hope for the Long Haul led by Kathy Escobar — RSM: Racial/Ethnic Self-Awareness as Spiritual Discipline for Missional leadership offered by Marie Onwubuariri — Preventing Human Trafficking / Sex Slavery led by Rachel Goble — Recovering the Missional Human: 12 Steps to Missional Living with Teresa & Chris Pasquale —Exegeting the Community: The Intersection of Theological Education and Social Justice with Tavonda Hudson, Leigh Finnegan, Elizabeth Mathis, and Scott Bostic
Panel Discussions: —How the Missional Church Needs to Change with Rich McCullen (Missiongathering), Jon Huckins and Christiana Rice (NieuCommunities), and Bret Wells (Missional Wisdom Foundation)
—De / Constructing Youth Ministry with Melvin Bray, Tripp Fuller, Micky Jones, Gregory Stevens, and moderated by Kristen Perkins
—Queermergent MultiFaith Panel with Jason Frye and others, moderated by Adele Sakler —Emergent Village Conversation with Mike Clawson and others —SoulEmergence Conversation with Anthony Smith and Peter Matthews —Skeptimergent Conversation with Kile Jones
—False Self Anonymous 12 Step Meeting for Everyone with Paul Engler
Last month I went to go see the new film about Nelson Mandela. It was a powerful film and ver much impacted me, but not in the way I expected. I actually left the theater seething with anger. Now I would never say or do anything to dishonor the legacy and memory of the great Mandela. He was a master activist and spiritualist and is now a legend. However, I think we are kidding ourselves if we sit back in light of this film and has passing and proclaim that justice has been served. Justice has not yet been served.
Did you know that in the US there are political prisoners in our jails? Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal and numerous other activists have been targeted for being effective, outspoken, mobilizing forces for justice in their communities. Until they are free, we are not free and until then I refuse to participate in celebrations that proclaim racism and injustice as things of the past. Instead I am going to use this time to write about two political prisoners who, in my mind at least, are indisputable heroes. I feel just sick that they are both still in prison after decades of being wrongfully imprisoned and having both now become movement grandfathers. They are both people of color from marginalized and oppressed communities who stand on the right side of history.
Mumia Abu-Jamal Mumia was an outspoken activist and radio personality that called out the police sponsored oppression against the Move 9 community in Philadelphia in the early 1980’s. He was framed for murder, convicted to death row and has grown old in jail. A movement to free Mumia has been working tirelessly for decades to free him from incarceration. He is an incredible writer, poet and visionary. I had the honor or working on his campaign back in the late 1990’s. We organized a 24/7 drum in at SCI Green, where he was then on death row. He sent us a written message that he could hear our drumming and felt our solidarity. I wish I could say that I’ve worked full time and tirelessly on his campaign since then, but that would be a lie. I had the choice to work on other things and I did. Mumia doesn’t have choice in his life and this pains me, though I will never know the kind of despair and captivity that he must feel. He is no longer on death row, but he still lives behind bars. Until Mumia is free, we are not free.
Leonard Peltier Leonard is an Lakota Native American activist from the American Indian Movement. He was framed for the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Incident and he’s been imprisoned for decades. He is a grandfather, a painter and dear gentle soul. I had the good fortune to speak to him on the phone at Leonard Peltier Defense Committee headquarters in the late 1990’s. I simply cannot believe he has not been pardoned by now and it only serves as a testimony that the systemic oppression that was dismantling movements for change in the 1970’s is still alive and at work. I carry such a love for this grandfather in my heart and a prayer that today or someday very soon that he will get to go home. I cannot begin to imagine the suffering he has encountered behind bars.
So if you are reading this, please take it upon yourself to lend your voice to the campaigns to free these amazing activists. And know that we live in a society where activists like Nelson Mandela live behind bars for simply calling for a better and more just world. Until they are free, we are not free.
I recently went to see 12 Years A Slave. While I was deeply impacted by this film and had thought I would blog my response to it, I’ve decided not to. Instead, I’ve decided to listen to the responses coming from women of color. There’s a time to listen and hold one’s tongue and I think, for me and maybe for other white folks, this is one of those times.
Enuma Okoro “Why I Would Not See 12 Years A Slave with a White Person.” “I’m not a racist. But I do have a race problem. I finally owned up to it as I was anticipating seeing 12 Years a Slave. In the weeks leading up to its opening in my state of North Carolina, I tried to think of whom among my friends I could see this film with. I have a number of racially and ethnically diverse friends and acquaintances who would love to see it, and yet, I knew I could only see this movie alone or with another dark-skinned person.”
Rebecca Wanzo “12 Years a Slave and the Problem of (Black) Suffering” “Looking away has become a national pastime — from the poor, the sick, and the civilians killed by war and drones. It is unclear to me what kinds of representations of suffering can always escape condemnation as sentimental, or manipulative, or “suffering porn.” But when we disparage 12 Years a Slave for trying to capture the essence of pain in chattel slavery, we are disavowing people whose pain can never totally be represented. There are, of course, other stories about slavery and black people that can and should be told. But that does not lessen the importance of this one.”
Agunda Okayo “The Women of 12 Years a Slave” “Undoubtedly, 12 Years a Slave is a film written and directed by men though produced by Dede Gardner, president Plan B Entertainment, who approached McQueen after seeing his film Hunger. Taking a cue from the overt empathy of Solomon Northup, the chief author of this narrative, the film succeeds in eliciting compassion for the many women and men who bore the burden of a life in physical and spiritual chains.”
Christena Cleveland “How Feeling Each Other’s Pain Changes Everything”“This is why films like 12 Years A Slave are so important. Christians of all colors must listen to each other’s stories, learn of each other’s pain and take up each other’s causes. One important step is to gather in culturally diverse groups to watch films like 12 Years A Slave (and other films that highlight various cultural histories/experiences),and create spaces for us to discuss topics like slavery’s enduring legacy of inequality in the U.S. In doing so, we begin the process of expanding our sense of self to include people who are culturally different than us and allowing our souls to be pierced with the irons of the unjust experiences of our brothers and “sisters.”
It took me a long time to write this. I thought I should try to be objective since I was supposed to be reviewing Michael Gungor’s book. Though it became clear that I was far from impartial, and yet my responsibility to write about this band loomed. And along the way I decided that Gungor is the perfect anthem band for the Postmodern Church/Movement. And yes, I confess, I also became a fan. So here are my reasons wrapped in some very nerdy bits of fan trivia:
1- Michael and Lisa Gungor were raised as conservative evangelicals and they evolved beyond it. They call their genre of music “liturgical post rock.”
Song: Cannot Keep You Lyric:they could not keep you in a tent they could not keep you in a temple or any of their idols, to see and understand we cannot keep you in a church we cannot keep you in a Bible or it’s just another idol to box you in they could not keep you in their box we cannot keep you in ours either
2- Gungor are activist / prankster / misfits. The music video for “I am Mountain” illustrates it best when Michael and Lisa initiate a colorful water balloon fight with a group of church goers all clad in white in a triangle formation in a meadow. The misfits, with huge smiles on their faces, nail the pastor in the back first, then folks in the congregation – who all bust into laughter and play, and naturally it all evolves into a dance party.
Song: God is Not a Man Lyric: God is not a man God is not a white man God is not a man sitting on a cloud God cannot be bought God will not be boxed in God will not be owned by religion but God is Love, God is Love, and He loves everyone God is Love, God is Love, and He loves everyone
3- Gungor sees God as a central guiding force that frees and holds the human in spiritual integrity. I think I feel this most in Lisa’s writing but it’s hard to tell who puts what into the Gungor soup. It for sure shows up in her solo stuff and on the “I am Mountain” album in numerous tracks. Here’s a blog entry about “Wandering” from Lisa.
Song: Wandering Lyric: I’ve been wandering through this world Looking for an anchor to hold me I’ve been stumbling through this world Searching for the thread that might free me I am looking to you I am holding on to you I am looking to you I’ve been holding on to you I’ve been wandering through this world Looking for a love that might free me
4- Gungor is critical of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) world but still exists within it. They live in the tension. Michael writes a lot of about the CCM business in his book and is quite critical of it. At the same time, they continue to play in churches and market themselves in the CCM market. While Gungor has been forced to draw lines with the CCm world in personal terms at times, they continue to play at churches and to church crowds. Michael has an interesting blog post about this.
5-Gungor is a community, a collaboration between husband and wife and a community of friends. Gungor used to be called “The Michael Gungor Band” but evolved away from single person celebrity to working, writing and conducting the band as a collective. They recorded the album “Ghosts Upon the Earth” in a vacation rental in the woods, living, cooking and recorded together.
Song: People of God Rise Up Lyric:people of God rise up rise up and shine God’s love we are the light of the world of the world oh we are the light of the world of the world oh love is the what holds it all together love never fails, it never dies there is no deeper truth we know that God is love, our God is love tear down the walls that divide us let love rebuild and unite us all we need is all we need is love
6- Gungor sees the Earth as alive and an integral part of God and spirituality.The video recorded of this song played acoustically in the forest is the best way to engage with this song, short of playing it yourself. (Yes I bought glockenspiel and performed it a number of times.)
Song: The Earth is Yours Lyric:Your voice it thunders The oaks start twisting The forest sounds with cedars breaking The waters see You and start their writhing From the depths a song is rising Now it’s rising from the ground Holy, Holy Holy, Holy Lord The earth is Yours and singing Holy, Holy Holy, Holy Lord The earth is Yours The earth is Yours
7- Gungor are creation cosmologists. We see ourselves in God and everything, thus everything in the universe within us. It’s a psychology and a theology of wholeness.
Song: I am Mountain Lyric:I am mountain, I am dust Constellations made of us There’s glory in the dirt The universe within the sand Eternity within a man We are ocean, we are mist Brilliant fools who ruled and kiss There’s beauty in the dirt Wandering in skin and soul Searching, longing for a whole I am mountain, I am dust Constellations made of us There’s mystery in the dirt The metaphors are breaking down We taste the wind inside a sound
8- Gungor as mystics. They don’t feed the ego and Lisa often talks about how her ideal scenario to play a concert is when everyone’s too busy having a mystical experience to even look at the band.
Song: Let it Go Lyric: You’ve been waiting there Waiting for the right time Looking for a perfect rhyme Never comes around It is all here It is all now Open up your eyes and look around It’ll go It’ll go If there’s anything that holds you down, just forget it Keeping your feet on the ground, don’t you let it Let it go, let it go, let it go, let it go
9- Gungor writes postmodern lyrics.
Song: A Long Way Lyric: The smartest men, they saw a world with Corners and endings far, far, far away But when they drew it out and searched it They were a long way, were a long way, were a long way We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way The erudite composed a thesis Everything we see is all, all, all there is But as an apophatic mystic We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way We’re a long way, we’re a long way, we’re a long way off
10- Gungor has experienced the dark night of the soul and survived to write about it. Michael wrote in his book at length about the burn out that sent him running off to “the best spiritual retreat in the world.” The song called “Beautiful Things” was written with Lisa in the wake of a miscarriage. In 2011, the album and its title track, “Beautiful Things”, were nominated for the Grammy categories Best Rock or Rap Gospel Album and Best Gospel Song, respectively. I gave this album to one of my more danger prone youth, and a week later I noticed she was singing this song softly to herself as a comfort. I can’t say I haven’t done the same.
Song: Beautiful Things Lyric: All this pain I wonder if I’ll ever find my way I wonder if my life could really change at all All this earth Could all that is lost ever be found Could a garden come up from this ground at all You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of the dust You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of us
In short: Gungor is the sound track for a new generation of young post moderns who love God and but don’t always see God in church. We look to them for mystical experiences akin to audio divina and narrate our church gatherings with original musical liturgy. And when we look to them we also see followers of Jesus, living into a collaborative counter culture rooted in the pursuit of beauty, community and love.
I hope that you investigate these artists for yourself. “I am Mountain” is the new album from Gungor and “The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse: A Book for Creators,” is the book by Michael Gungor, both are available on iTunes. Or better yet order product directly from the band on their beautiful site. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the vinyl LP’s of the album are available online. And I’d be lying if I denied that a record player is my Christmas list for a reason!
The views expressed here are solely my own and not those of the artists collectively known as Gungor, or anyone else I write about for that matter.
Recently I had the opportunity to be a part of an international gathering of Emergent minded Christians from Thailand, Malasia, Hong Kong, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, US and Canada. Below is the narrative that we came up with to share our shared values and desire for deeper connections between us. What I was most impacted by was learning about the various networks around the world that link up the work of small faith communities. I am heartened by the attempt to connect our work globally and hope to see collaborations for change evolve out of this conversation. I am most grateful to Brian McLaren for developing these relationships and then thinking to connect us.
Over recent years, many of us have felt something stirring in us …
a thirst for a more authentic, honest, and sustaining spiritual life
a hunger to do justice, to show compassion, to walk humbly with God
a desire to understand and engage with the critical problems of our world
a need for a space to grapple honestly with our questions of theology and practice
a loneliness for a sense of shared identity and belonging.
As Christians, we were searching for companions on a journey
a journey from many of the forms and assumptions that were no longer working for us
a journey toward something new that we had not yet seen.
The journey was often frightening and difficult. Whenever we found someone who shared our questions, desires, and dreams, we gathered around a table for conversation. Through conversation, we became friends on a journey. And from our friendships, we gained the courage to try new things.
Sometimes we met each other online. Sometimes we traveled great distances to be together. Sometimes we formed networks in a city, nation, region, or continent. We would share books, ideas, and websites. We would share our successes and setbacks. As our numbers grew, so did our confidence and so did our dreams. We found that we became better together than we were alone.
Soon, we realized that all around the world, similar tables and networks were forming:
in Africa and Asia
in North, Central, and South America
from Europe to the Middle East to Australia.
So we eventually decided to invite people to gather face to face in one place for the first time in Thailand, in 2013. About fifty of us traveled from around the world. We chose the name Mesa, the Spanish word for table, because it suggested a space of conversation, companionship, and nourishment for life, work, and action.
Our group included pastors, theologians, activists, authors, NGO leaders, and lay people from a variety of professions. We began by spending a few days in a poor rural village, sharing in the hard work and beautiful culture of our hosts. Later, in an urban center, we walked the streets where the sex trade is a major industry. We knew that whatever God was doing among us, it must be rooted in a concern for our neighbors who live in poverty.
Then we gathered at a retreat center for prayer and worship. We reflected on the Scriptures and we began to talk about what we thought we might be able to be and do together, with God’s help. We brought different gifts, weaknesses, and concerns to the table, but we shared ten deep commitments:
1. We believe in Jesus and the good news of the reign, commonwealth, or ecosystem of God, and we seek for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven by focusing on love – love for God and neighbor, for outsider and enemy.
2. We seek to know, serve, and join the poor in the struggle for justice and freedom … through advocacy, relationships, and action.
3. We seek to honor, interpret, and apply the Bible in fresh and healing ways, aware of the damaging ways the Bible has been used in the past.
4. We seek to reconnect with the earth, understand the harm human beings are doing to it, and discover more responsible, regenerative ways of life in it.
5. We seek the common good, locally and globally, through churches of many diverse forms, contexts, and traditions, and we imagine fresh ways for churches to form Christlike people and join God in the healing of the world.
5. We build inclusive partnerships across gaps between the powerful and vulnerable – including disparities based on wealth, gender, race and ethnic identity, education, religion, sexuality, age, politics, and physical ability.
6. We engage conflict at all levels of human society with the creative and nonviolent wisdom of peacemaking.
7. We propose new ways of encountering the other in today’s pluralistic world and we collaborate with other religious and secular groups in alliances for the common good.
8. We host safe space for constructive theological conversation, seeking to root our practice in theological reflection and seeking to express our reflection in practical action.
9. We value the arts for their unique role in nurturing, challenging, and transforming our humanity.
10. We emphasize spiritual and relational practices to strengthen our inner life with God and our relationships with one another.
Having affirmed these ten commitments, we prayed for strength and guidance. We prayed that others would join us. We prayed that goals, plans, and resources would be provided as needed. We decided to gather again in four years to see and celebrate what fruit will be born from our little seeds of faith, and to see what new dreams might take shape.
We have many possibilities ahead of us. We also have many unanswered questions and challenges. But we are beginning, and we invite you to join us. If your heart resonates with our story, we invite you to …
Invite some people to gather around a table. Get to know each other. Share your stories.
Talk about the twelve commitments and if your heart moves you, make them your commitment too.
Identify as a participant in Mesa.
Invite other individuals and networks to connect to the network too.
Make use of the resources on this website.
Let us know you’ve organized a mesa community so we can link to it.
Stay informed, participate, and contribute in any ways you can.
Let us know if we can help you.
Report what God does in and through you so we can celebrate together.
It is quite known in multicultural and social justice organizing, that if you want a diverse group of people at a party, you must have a diverse group of people planning the party. Inclusivity begins on the ground floor and is part of a systemic shift in the dynamics of who envisions the party, gets funding for the party, plans the party, puts out the invitations to the party etc.
This November there will be a convening of initiators for the Collection Action Network Approach (CANA), a new incarnation of emergent and progressive Christian leaders, activists and organizations who will be starting the visioning and planning for the party. The invitation to participate is lovely and inclusive, with much intention put into casting as wide a net as possible. I believe that the open invitation to help plan the party is an authentic and relational invitation and not simply an attempt to tokenize a few representatives.
To be honest, I have found myself critiquing the lack of inclusivity of white cultured organizing for nearly two decades and I’ve grown weary. So in the interest of supporting this effort while supporting my dream of multicultural organizing emerging in this context, myself and some friends have decided to raise money. Funds will go to interested folks from marginalized and impacted communities of color and will cover the cost of flights and hotels. I know that money alone is not the answer, but for me, I feel that giving up my seat at the table to someone who can speak directly from their experience of marginalization is a step in the right direction. Collectively, and with very little personal financial investment, we can be a part of helping to set the table for a broader, more diverse collaboration of progressive Christians in this effort to roll out powerful action for change. Will you join us?
If you think it’s important to have voices from marginalized communities in on the ground floor of national progressive Christian organizing for racial, economic, environmental and social justice, please give to this effort right now.
If you or someone you know wants to be at CANA and needs support to do so, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month I had the opportunity to join the staff of the International Women’s Environmental Climate Initiative in helping to produce a Summit of 100 women from around the globe in addressing the global climate crisis. The weekend was awe inspiring and included powerful women activists like Jane Goodall, Vandana Shiva and Amy Goodman. We were joined by powerful male allies like Ted Turner and Larry Schweiger. As an activist who in continually disturbed by the whiteness of progressive movements and conferences in the USA, I was blown away by that the majority were women of color and their amazing presence and contributions. My job at the summit was to help set up and manage the live cast of the presentations. I very much encourage you to watch the videos archived here. Friday night features a conversation that Vandana Shiva and Jane Goodall moderated by Amy Goodman (embedded below):