Leading Edge 2014 Day 4 and MountainTop 2014: Wrapping Up and Reaching Out

Today, we wrapped up the Leading Edge 2014 Conference, then spent the rest of the day at MountainTop 2014: Putting Spirituality into Practice, an event that Auburn Seminary put on for leaders “with a stake in building the multifaith movement for justice.”

The day started with a session on Conflict and Healing in Faith Communities by John Janka, and closed with “The Leader’s Journey: Coming to Yourself,” an activity with Elizabeth Lesser of the Omega Institute  in which she asked us to write six-word memoirs for our personal and spiritual work (the latter, for me, was “Transcending divisions in self and world”).  After closing the conference with a short spiritual reflection, including a laughing meditation, the MountainTop workshop began.  We went very deep, very fast, and had the privilege of engaging with spiritual social justice leaders from all over the country (one came in from Honolulu just for the half-day event!) about how our personal practices inform the work we do in the world.  I learned a beautiful calling-of-the-elements meditation from Valarie Kaur, and, with a small group of fascinating people, created a 5-minute presentation on how spirituality and sexuality come together in social justice.

Also, on my lunch break, I had the pleasure of talking with (actually, mostly listening to, at my own request) Rev. Bob Chase of Intersections International, who spoke on Sunday, about the commonalities between his work and my vision.  I came away from the conversation with a clear idea of where the vision meets practical application, and the beginnings of what that reality will look like.  (Hint: it’s starting to look like  a hybrid of interfaith nonprofit and community ministry.  More on where the rubber meets the road later.)

I’ve taken in more than I can distill into a blog post, so while I digest it all and reflect, I’ll leave you with some quotations from the day, some of which I tweeted.  These should give you a rough sketch of this rich, fulfilling day.

“Once a conflict issue arises, it can quickly be eclipsed as an issue by people reacting to one another.” ~John Janka

“Everyone needs to be able to tell their story in a safe space. This means they need to agrees on some ground rules for having those discussions… And as soon as they begin to tell their stories, healing has already started.” ~John Janka

“[If a colleague is exhibiting dysfunctional behavior,] they need help.  Resistance to looking at how to get healthier is surely going to lead their demise.”  ~John Janka

Get so comfortable in your skin that you no longer have to do leadership – you can just be it.”  ~Elizabeth Lesser

“We need to examine our own family system as an organization.” ~Elizabeth Lesser

“Showing up fully with whoever and whatever is in front of you right now has the potential to change the world.” ~Elizabeth Lesser

“How dare we try to save the world at the demise of our own soul’s journey.” ~Fred Johnson, at MountainTop

“Sexuality is the divine invitation to find our destinies not in loneliness, but in deep connection.” ~Sexuality group paraphrasing writers Jim Nelson & Sandra Longfellow

“Your personal story shatters the framework of assumptions and opens the door for real connection.” ~ Unknown MountainTop participant

And, finally, my favorite, originally said yesterday and repeated as a benediction this evening:

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for to heal the world.” ~Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis

Thank you again, my beloved community, for sending me on this journey.  Your investment will pay off in dividends, and I will keep you posted of it here.

Namaste,

SLW

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Leading Edge 2014 Day 3: Healing the Soul Wounds of Racial and Economic Injustice

Hello friends, 

Today’s conference started with a good dose of gratitude.  After a fitful sleep in a hostel with paper-thin walls and a half-hour detour on my walk to the conference (I confused 7th Avenue and 7th Street), I graciously caught the second half of Lynne Twist‘s “Generating Generosity to Heal the World,” which addressed the scarcity mindset of contemporary consumerist culture and how adopting a mindset of sufficiency is its antidote.  By the end of the session, during which I shared a personal gratitude list with my seatmate, any momentary stress I’d felt from the morning had passed.  

Lynne addressed the three toxic myths of scarcity thinking, which apply not only to financial resources, but time, energy, love, and, ultimately, self-worth: 

  1. There isn’t enough.  There isn’t enough food to go around.  There isn’t enough money in my bank account.  There isn’t enough time in the day.  I’m not enough; I can’t get everything done, or spend enough time with my family, or do enough to justify my existence. 
  2. More is better.  More food in my portions.  More money in my bank account.  More stuff in my house.  More gadgets.  More work.  More busyness.  More friends.  More sex.  More consumption.  More credit.  More debt.
  3. That’s just the way it is.  Capitalism is here to stay.  We live in a money-based economy.  It’s normal to hold onto things, save them for later, put them in boxes that gather dust.  I have to work at this job I hate to make the money I need to support the family I’m too exhausted and unfulfilled to be present with.  

She went on to speak of a new paradigm of sufficiency thinking, which is different than the abundance thinking that has become popular in self-help movements in recent years.  She drew on ideas from Buckminster Fuller, one of her teachers, and asserted that:

Sufficiency is being met by the Universe.  Sufficiency is the exquisite distinction of “enough” — not abundance [which is excess].  

She closed with a poem by a Sufi teacher (whose name I didn’t catch), which ended,

“I got nothing I wanted, and everything I needed.”  

You can watch Lynne’s related TEDx talk here.  

 

Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews spoke about what he called “prophetic imagination” in his talk, “Imagination + Organizing = Healing.”  His thesis:  “Organizing that is fueled by a hope-filled imagination is essential in building a movement for racial and economic justice and healing.”   He used Walter Brueggemann’s definition of imagine: “To utter, entertain, describe, and construe a world other than the one that is manifest in front of us.”  Prophetic imagination — the ability to envision a different future — is essential if we are to break the dominant narrative that power rests outside of the self and community, that there must always be an other, and that we must be in conflict with that other because of the scarcity mindset Lynne described. 

 

In the afternoon, Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre, of whom I’m becoming quite the fan boy (for his fabulous bow ties as much as his badass theology – and yes, those words can and should go together) shared how he came to decolonize his understanding of Jesus in a talk called “The Political Jesus: Reading the Bible with an Accent.”  He described himself as a young man who, after being racially profiled by a police officer, thought to himself, “I’m glad the police are doing their jobs”: 

My mind was so colonized… that I saw my body through other people’s eyes.  

…To decolonize my mind, I have to let go of the Jesus of the colonizers.  

To do this, he began to read about Jesús, instead of Jesus.  In his words,

To read about Jesús becomes an act of political rebellion… because Jesús himself was a colonized man [under Rome].

He went on to quote 20 New Testament versus that show Jesús as a man who was born homeless and in poverty; became an undocumented immigrant in Egypt, where he was surely taunted and othered for his accent and ethnic difference; was called to minister to the marginalized because he dwelled among them; and was not afraid to stand up to power and neo-liberalism, to reinterpret Scripture, or to admit when he was wrong and change his point of view.  I’ll be unpacking this set of ideas for a while, so I’ll table this talk for further discussion.

 

Finally, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church and Anurag Gupta, founder of BE MORE, presented “Healing the Divide: Acting for Racial Justice and Equality.”  Anurag did an amazing job of explaining the difference between racism and unconscious bias, and argued (convincingly) that what we tend to identify as the former in today’s world is usually, in fact, the latter.  He explained the Racial Empathy Gap (REG) and how it “explains disparities in everything.”  I can’t possibly reduce his synopsis of the 300-year-old concept of race (and yes, it is only that old) to a blurb in a blog, but suffice to say, I had a paradigm shift.  I also intend to research this further, so stay tuned for further thoughts and reflections.  In the meantime, do yourself a favor and watch this video on the need to be intentional about creating multicultural, multiracial spaces in worship and beyond: 

Thank you and goodnight!  I’m very excited to be sleeping on a quiet couch tonight instead of that noisy hostel… 

SLW

Leading Edge 2014 Day 2: Telling Our Truths and Forging Connections

Hey everyone,

Today was mind-blowingly awesome beyond any succinct description I can come up with right now.  Irshad Manji and Robert Chase led a challenging discussion called “The Truth Teller’s Dilemma: Can Confrontation and Compassion Coexist?” (spoiler: yes).  Marcus Borg talked about mysticism and the common cores in the Abrahamic faiths’ differing views of Jesus, invoked William James, and joked that Moses was a cross-dresser because he wore a veil to shield people from the light emanating from his face on the descent from Sinai.  Valarie Kaur reinforced the age-old power of storytelling in her presentation “Storytelling + Advocacy = Social Change,” showing us how her documentaries share people’s stories in meaningful ways that have created concrete change in police brutality, prison policy, and interreligious relations. She also gave us Marshall Ganz’s formula for “telling your public story” as a tool for connection and change-making.

All of this was indescribably amazing.  But for me, the most important thing that happened today was this 2-minute video:

That, my friends, is the essence of my street ministry idea in professionally-made digital media form.  I came here with the question, “How do I get from where I am now to the Big Vision? What are my action steps?”  Tomorrow, I am supposed to talk with Rev. Robert Chase, the founding director of Intersections International in NYC, about how he has lived the answers to those questions and created this dynamic, life-giving, bridge-building ministry.  In other words, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel; it’s already in use.  I only need to ask for guidance so we in Tulsa can adapt it to our own community’s needs.

Between that joyous serendipity, a rich conversation with Irshad about identity, integrity, authenticity, and self-care, and a mystical encounter with a random stranger/fellow seeker who bought me dinner in Greenwich Village, I can safely call this day a win.  I’m going to sleep well tonight knowing that the path is unfolding beneath my feet, good works are happening all over this vast and troubled world, God is in the Heaven of the Here and Now, and all is right in this tiny, crucial moment.

Thank you again, community supporters, for sending me here.  Your investment has already paid off in dividends – and we’re only halfway through the conference!

Namaste,

SLW

Leading Edge 2014 Day 1: Moral Courage

Hello, friends!

Today was day one of my journey at the Leading Edge Conference at Middle Collegiate Church, East Village, NYC.  I got up at 4:30 am CST to catch my 6:30 a.m. flight out of Tulsa, and have currently been up for 20 hours, so in the interest of my self-care, I’m going to give you three takeaways from this abundantly soul-feeding day, starting with:

  1. Self-care is a key skill in leadership.  “We know where our responsibility starts, but not where it ends,” said Irshad Manji in response to the question of how to do self-care as leaders in moral and spiritual movements. “The first thing I had to learn to do was say no,” she went on — a statement that might have been a glib sound byte had she not followed it up with a gripping personal story of how the pressure of trying to do it all landed her in the hospital from a stress-related seizure.  How does she recommend putting this into action?  “Ask for what you need, and ask again, and ask different people.”  Or, as I heard years ago, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”
  2. Love is not always patient and kind.  Jacqui Lewis, Irshad’s conversation/presentation partner, says that “we need some impatient love” for moral courage, “especially when there is evil in the room.”  As spiritual leaders, we are frequently held to the image of the beatific Jesus, emphasizing patience to the point of complacency.  Jacqui clarifies that God’s love is always patient and kind — but we are not God.  To love impatiently means that we do not have time to wait for bad situations to correct themselves; we are God’s agents of change on earth, and that requires decisive action, based in love.  We must love the world enough to push for change.  To take such action lovingly, we must “place the evil in the system, not the people” by choosing to view individual actors as “good people caught in a bad system that needs to be redeemed and restored,” rather than as an oversimplified Other who is a one-dimensionally Bad person.
  3. People emphasize separateness — of religious and ethnic groups, economic classes, subcultures, even families — “because we know that when we get together, we are going to change each other; we think we have so much to lose when in fact we have so much to gain.”  This is another gem from Jacqui and Irshad.

I’ll write more on these ideas, and on Marcus Borg’s talk “The Historical Jesus and Moral Courage,” when I’ve had sleep.  You can find bios for all three presenters here.

 

Goodnight, and namaste,

SLW

Walk With Me: An Invitation to My Journey

Hello, and welcome to my blog!

I created this space to share what I’m learning in my journey of ministerial formation, seminary education, and creating a Border-Walkers street ministry in downtown Tulsa and beyond.

My first set of posts will be reflections on my experience at the Leading Edge Conference in NYC April 26-30, which I’m attending thanks to the generous support of my community through a GoFundMe campaign. I’ll do my best to post every day of the conference. After that, we’ll see where the blogging path leads!

So, you ask, what’s all this about border-walkers, and what does that even mean?

Borders often represent separation and differentiation, but they are also points of connection, as theologian Paul Tillich notes.  Since my first steps in this body, I have found myself walking (and stumbling) along many borders — familial, social, economic, religious, and identity-based — and for many years, felt that I belonged nowhere and existed on the margins.  As my path has unfolded, I have learned that I needn’t stay in the neutral ground between worlds; to do so is to deny my spiritual mission in this life.  Instead, I can use my gifts to stand in multiple worlds at once, reaching into each and guiding people to stand together in the liminal space that once kept them apart.

My goal and call is to help individuals and groups walk those borders that have historically separated them and transform them into points of connection.  Here, I offer my contemplations and lessons — personal and professional, theological and philosophical, sacred and profane — on that journey.

I welcome your questions and insights — and hope that you will join me in this mission of connectivity.

Namaste,

Steven Leigh Williams