[This post, is the second of two (Sacred Activism, Part One, posted 8/1/2013). Together, they form a homily I delivered at the ChI Interfaith Community monthly interfaith service on July 20, 2013.]
We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable. We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought…
– Walter Brueggemann
In Sacred Activism, Part One, I asked us to check-in with ourselves about the ideas we currently hold around the word, “activism.” We scrolled through a short list of some of today’s local and global issues inviting change, justice or transformation. Then, just before going numb, spitting fire or admitting hopelessness, I suggested that there is NEW activist at work in our world; an activist who, standing on the shoulders of activist ancestry, has cultivated 3 unique characteristics – sacred practices, we might say – to meet life fully engaged, moving beyond anger, beyond avoidance. We began with Practice One: Begin with Love, Return to Love. And now, I would like to describe two more.
Practice Two: Regenerative Humility, Rippling Faith
Back in 2004, there were some Americans – myself among them – who really wanted a different president. In Northern California, the tone of the election was wiry and frantic. In a last-ditch effort, I volunteered at a phone bank, calling residents in swing states. One night, I spoke woman in her 60s. She lived in Ohio and I asked her if she would be voting in the election. She said, “Oh, I sort of stopped doing that.” “Really,” I pushed on, “When did you stop voting?” “Well, the year I turned 21 was an election year and I was very excited to go to the polls. The Daylight Savings Time measure was on the ballot and it didn’t pass the way I wanted it to, so I stopped.” My jaw dropped. There was nothing on my phone bank script that seemed a suitable response. I took a deep breath, “That must have been disappointing for you. Sometimes we don’t get the measures we vote for, but I do think it’s still really valuable to ask for what we want. I really hope you’ll go to the polls next week.”
Because the starting point and returning point is always love, Regenerative Humility and Rippling Faith work in tandem for the New Activist. This practice is about healing the whole by healing one’s self. If that woman in Ohio had had some tools for being with her own disappointment, is it possible she wouldn’t have burnt-out so quickly? In 2013, the very notion of Activism implies the Long-haul.
Humility keeps us curious and from becoming overly focused on the outcomes. What do I mean by Regenerative Humility? I’m describing something that is less interested in changing the world (outside in) and more aware of how the world is changing me (inside out).
Humility becomes regenerative, when it believes in real transformation, at a pace that can sustain the inevitable set-backs or disappointments along the way.
To find this staying power, humility is in symbiotic relationship with Faith. The New Activist has faith that just he or she is doing does his or her own work, others are doing their work also. Rippling Faith is where these two meet. It’s where our mutual efforts co-mingle and inspire one another, neither angry, nor avoidant. Rippling Faith is Shamanic; it’s a deep knowing that what is above is also below; that we can move forward with receptivity, steadiness and compassion toward what is happening and what will be.
Practice Three: Prophetic Imagination
The last practice I want to highlight, for now, is Prophetic Imagination. If this is a new term for you, please explore it. The New Activist looks to Prophetic Imagination as a North Star, and also as an unwavering source of inspiration. It is the North Star because, when we consider how we got here, at all, we have the holiest of all Imaginations to thank. In the words of Thomas Berry,
“If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the earth….(with) seas and the atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell…and finally brought us into being and guided us through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relations to this stupendous process.”
Who are the prophets? They are the visionaries, the restless ones. Prophets are the historians who tell our story using paint, poetry, dreams and dance.
The prophetic imagination puts treasure immediately at our fingertips. And it is also our prophetic imagination that brings fresh eyes to see the issues that have been cleverly avoided or brushed aside as “a thing of the past.”
And so now my closing question, who is this New Activist?
This activist is moving in you (yes, you…and you, too), and in every single one of us.
The Sacred Activist, is US.
We create the world we imagine and there is a time-sensitive invitation at stake for us all. What story is our history t0 tell, with our poetry, our visions, our first-hand account of living life fully right now? What do you love? Where can curiosity provide renewed energy?
Lean into it; make art (click that!); tell a story; see what happens…
Bibliography and Photo Credits:
Stanford SIQSS Studywww-cs-faculty.stanford.edu
Thank you for your inspiring ideas. Sacred Activism – great term for what I’ve thought a lot about over the years. It’s a big messy puzzle I never can fully put together. In essence, the problem for me is that the more I’m informed, the more angry I get. Then I quickly go to feeling defeated (the “monster” is so big and amorphous), which thwarts movement forward to engage with activists. While inspirational, and incredibly well written, I struggle with your idea to turn the anger into love. I know when I have a regular meditation practice, I can more clearly see that the faceless corporate executive is not that different from me.
But those moments of expansiveness and grace are fleeting for me when I learn about the horrible injustices of the world and the damage done to defenseless other species. The systems “they” have created are so tall and fortified, and well funded.
So once again your blog posts got me thinking… thank you.
Thanks, DJ, for ALL you’ve shared here. I’m so touched when people actually read what I write….and then engage with me about it!!! A few thoughts, in response:
You’re right, anger is a natural response! And a fine one…I feel strongly, though, that moving from a place of anger, though initially energizing, becomes very depleting. Worst case scenario: it creates the burnt-out, un-involved activist. Moreover, if not channeled skillfully, the activist’s anger “oozes” off into the demonstration (or letter-writing campaign, etc) and is not met well by the ones most needing to receive the overarching message or request. I think you probably agree? I hear you completely about “turn the anger into love,” and want to offer a clarification. I’m not suggesting you TURN your anger for the, “Horribles” (Thanks, Lee, for this great label!) into love for the Horribles. No way! The Horribles are Horrible and Injust and Unforgivable. No question. What I am suggesting is that when the Horribles become overwhelming within us that WE – as individuals – RETURN to love. We return to what we love. From my story, for example, I couldn’t handle the single-use waste I was witnessing everyday at the hospital, or the “sale” at the thrift store. Beginning my work there would have been impotent, angry, exhausting. Instead, I pedaled my bike up into the green-breathing hills to re-group and feel , once more, that I Am Nature (as are we all). THEN, re-rooted to that undeniable truth (returned to my love, if you will), I could talk with corporate executives. I spoke to them, fueled by “love,” instead of the me-against-them stuff. Does that make any sense? It’s subtle, but really different and a very important distinction. I think the same practice would be true, for example, for the social worker who works with the foster care system. She needs to really, really PLAY with her healthy grandchildren in order to stay clear about her work.
Let me know what you think.
Hello! I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful blog. Since I’ve never commented or emailed you, I realized that you wouldn’t even know that I am one of your readers – which I have been of every post since the beginning!
Reflecting on your recent series on sacred activism…my struggle with activism has been finding within myself enough conviction to hold the line and risk conflict when my instinct is peaceful coexistence (in this case, non-action). I’m finding that the conviction doesn’t come from my own fear or anger (when I’m finally worked up enough – which actually shuts me down) or even the backing of a bank of facts but, just as you said in your post, from love. Conviction from sharing things that I love or holding on to fairness for those that I love. That makes it rather empowering.
Thank you also for the opportunity to share 🙂 I hope that you are doing well and that our paths can cross sometime in the not to distant future!
I’m SO happy to hear from you and INCREDIBLY touched that you read my posts. Thank you! I really have no idea what happens once I hit, “publish” and so it means a lot when I hear from people. And what I delight to hear from you! A thoughtful, engaged being. Thank you, so much.
So, here’s my new question….now that you’ve sourced this sense of empowerment (your conviction that is rooted in love), are you, perhaps, less afraid to incur possible conflict? Are you curious to see what happens when you speak your truth? My sense, is that if you’re grounded in this way, it won’t be scary so much as liberating. I hope you’ll try it out….if even in a small way and let me know what happens.
I hope you are doing really well….in all manner of life and love, LVH
Lauren, I really appreciate your thoughts on sacred activism. You know I’m involved in several kinds of activism because of my ministry in Lincoln. I’ve never actually labeled what I do as “sacred.” But I have always been clear – and made it clear to others – that I do what I do because of the values of have been taught, or caught, or simply absorbed through my religious practice as a Christian. It is sacred, and being an activist is a sacred trust. I’m glad to have the terminology. Thank you!
Thank you, also for remembering the thousands of LGBT persons who are victims of hate crimes. As a life-long Nebraskan who was living in Omaha in 1993, I have vivid memories of hearing the news of Brandon Teena and becoming ill at the realization of the brutality inflicted on him here in my own state. That and many other experiences brought me to join the struggle. I am very aware of the sacredness of this work of love, mercy and justice.