Monday, April 1, 2013

Toward Collective Liberation: Building Successful Social Movements

It wasn't until recently I realized that I had somehow lost a bunch of digital files off my computer. It was mainly photos and newspaper articles from my activist work when I lived in the San Francisco/Bay Area from the late 90's to the mid 2000's. That loss left me feeling sick with the thought that a deeply formative part of my life was gone. My experience with Occupy Movement organizing left me longing to reconstruct what was good, strategic and expansive about our activism back in the day and put those lessons back to work.

Sometimes the very thing that's needed comes to being and luckily Chris Crass came along with his new book Towards Mutual Liberation: Anti Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy.

The book came across my Facebook feed at the most incredible time. I had been writing on intentional movement building and praxis in relationship to the Emergence Christianity Movement. As a relative newcomer encountering the Emergent movement as a non-evangelical with new age Buddhist leanings, I had a lot to learn in just getting to know the movement, its culture, language and friendships. Prior to this, I had almost literally no idea that there was a thing called Progressive Christianity in the United States. I had encountered faith-based groups in organizing, but never knew the theology behind it. It's been incredibly life-giving for me and brought me back to the core of my spirituality. So when I say that I am engaged in critiquing the way we go about building our movement, please know that I am doing it from a deep level of love and investment in the Emergent Movement.

This book comes to us at such a lovely time, a time when we are asking ourselves what collective potential we have to build a better world together.We are asking ourselves if we are a conversation or a movement, a network of talkers or doers, and some of us are getting impatient to live out the call toward Justice that we feel compelled by our faith to enact.

Rather than re-create the social movement wheel we can look to the lessons and gains that movements who've come before us have struggled towards. Chris does a beautiful job contextualizing the movement culture that we activists inherited back in the 80's and 90's and weaves a narrative that is both engaging and informative about the things we learned. I first met Chris when I was organizing in the Art & Revolution Collective and Chris was a Food Not Bombs organizer in San Francisco. Our collectives worked together a lot, and we both ended up at a lot of the the same protests and the 15-week Challenging White Supremacy workshop with the brilliant Sharon Martinez in collaboration with the People's Institute's Betita Martinez. Betita had just written a provocative essay entitled "Where Was the Color In Seattle: Looking for Reasons the Great Battle Was So White" written in response to the mass protests in Seattle at the World Trade Organization Ministerial On November 30th, 1999. She starts the piece off with a quote:

"I was at the jail where a lot of protesters were being held and a big crowd of people was chanting 'This Is What Democracy Looks Like!'
At first it sounded kind of nice. But then I thought: is this really what democracy looks like? Nobody here looks like me."
—Jinee Kim, Bay Area youth organizer

This essay threw the progressive social profit sector up and down the west coast into an upheaval of challenging built-in white supremacist organizational structures and dynamics. We witnessed numerous NGOs fall apart, completely deconstructing their culture and process and starting over again. We saw a lot of progress and experienced the shift in how our organizing was called upon to evolve and become more focused around bridge building. So as I hang around Emergent Movement conferences and hear that same call again from people of color and white allies, I'm thinking, "Wait, we activists have done this work, and we learned a lot that we can share!" And this is where Toward Collective Liberation becomes an amazing tool for progressive Christians in the U.S. Chris Dixon says it better than anyone in his Introduction to the book:

"Transformative social movements are always much more dynamic and intelligent than individual organizers, no matter how reflective, tireless and courageous such individuals may be.  This is one of the amazing things about collective struggle for justice. At the same time there are always individuals who crystallize movement experiences, who distill and share hard won insights and help to catalyze much needed discussions. Chris Crass is one of these people. For two decades, he has consistently given expression to the ideas, questions, and lessons of a generational cohort of radical organizers and activists in the United States."

In his first essay, Chris does an amazing job of illustrating how anarchist politics and organizing influenced our shared organizing culture. Consensus-based organizing was the norm, many of us working in collectives that practiced feminist,  transparent, non-hierarchical leadership structures but still manage to collaborate with more top-down structured NGOs. I want to challenge us here not to dismiss the strategic politics of anarchists organizing as the chaos and destruction that language and media have portrayed them to be. Much of what we saw in the Global Justice movement, the anti-war movement, and Occupy was based in liberatory anarchist politics, which is a testimony to the contributions of anarchist political thought this century.

Chris also does a really beautiful job of narrating why anti-oppression work and challenging systemic racism is absolutely essential to movement building. Chris Crass went on to found the Heads Up Collective and anti-racism training collective called Catalyst Project. He has some serious chops around this work, and we're lucky Chris has a passion for documenting our shared lessons and passing on the knowledge. He's written countless resources and made them widely available to Occupy movements. Chris understands and rises to the responsibility of passing on the gains that we have achieved in building movement cultures that work.

Chris understands that social movements don't only just win gains from institutions on behalf of communities, they also embody, live into and become those gains that better serve their community. Let's briefly look at some of the components of transformative social movements:

Prefigurative Politics
One of the things I'd like us to look at is what Chris has to say about prefigurative politics. We talk about "living into" visions for what we like to see for our lives, we quote Gandhi, and we sloganize his call for us to "be the change you wish to see in the world." This concept may come from other sources, as truth has a way of cropping up in varied and multiple ways, but I think it's good to unpack this further. Prefigurative politics is the strategy of incorporating the vision of the future society into the struggle to get there.

Chris writes:
"Social change is not replacing one ruling class for another, but transforming the social relationships of society away from domination toward democracy and equality ... Prefigurative politics challenges us to create liberatory processes and practices in the here and now while we fight for the future. This means bringing feminist politics into our daily lives and organizations as much as we can, while recognizing that we need to engage in long-term collective struggle against patriarchy as a system of oppression. Similarly, we should work to understand anti-racism as not only a politics against systemic racism, but for anti-racist culture, strategy, and practice in our organizations and lives that transform the ways we work for liberation."
This is the absolute crux of my critique of the Emergent Church Movement. I feel strongly that if we are not prefigurative in our approach to our collective movement work, we are simply acting out the dynamics that keep people oppressed. If we wish to be a transformative force in our work together, we must work together in a way that challenges all the -isms and systemic means of oppression while working for the world we wish to see some into being — the kingdom of God on Earth. Anything less would be lacking integrity.

Movement Strategy Center
If you don't know the Movement Strategy Center, I highly recommend checking out their literature. I can write a whole other essay just on the work of their director Taj James. What I want to leave you with is a quote from him that I feel deeply compelled by, and I hope you do to:
"There is a deep cultural change underway in the progressive movement which is radically transforming how we organize and work together. Ask not what your sector of the movement can do for mine — realize that if we do not unite, all of our movements will face continual defeats in the face of a unified and ascendant right wing. The brave organizations and leaders who are driving this change need support from the broader movements. We are not asking for mere words of support but rather for concrete acts of solidarity that demonstrate an embodied wisdom of our independence."

Steps Forward Toward Mutual and Collective Liberation
I am honored to be teaching on this material this weekend at the TransFORM Southwest Regional Gathering in Fort Worth, TX, a gathering of missional-minded practitioners. I would also like to invite you to take part in a series of Open Conversations that we are having online around the many facets of movement building. On May 7th at 8pm EST we will be hosting another conversation online with Chris Crass, Anthony Smith, Steve Knight  along with other social movement folks and a few other Emergent Movement folks, which will be able to be viewed on SOGO Media TV on YouTube. Viewers will be able to chat in questions and comments. The goal with these conversations is to move forward our collective understanding of liberatory and transformative social movement building in an open and transparent way.  I hope that you join us.

Holly Roach is an activist, communications and development director, and artist currently living life in Santa Fe, NM.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

By Invitation Only?: Private Summit Actually Threatens to Undermine Emergence Christianity

The day before the national book event honoring Phyllis Tickle in Memphis, roughly 50 emergent movement leaders had a state of Emergence Christianity meeting. The meeting was organized by Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt, also the organizers of the book event.

The invitation went out in the same email that invited Phyllis's “favorite people” to do a presentation at her book event, so I think it's accurate to say that the people in the room were friends of Phyllis. Perhaps more people were invited after the fact, however the language in the invitation email states specifically, “In advance of the Emergence Christianity conference in January, Phyllis Tickle has asked us (Tony and Doug) to organize a private, invitation-only gathering of some of her favorite people.” The invitation goes on to state the topic of the summit, "Together or Not? How Will Emergence Christianity Proceed?"

Now this is all very confusing, and dare I say troubling on a number of levels. First of all, Emergence Christianity has always been conveyed to me as a movement. In fact, Brian McLaren is now teaching movement theory in his speaking gigs and framing Emergence Christianity as thus. There are principles to social movements that are adopted and practiced for various practical and philosophical reasons. The way this meeting was organized violates social movement cornerstone principles in a number of ways. As an organizer in many social and environmental movements in the past 20 years — ranging from the Political Prisoners/Prison Industrial Complex movement, to the Global Justice (Anti-Globalization) movement, the Environment Justice/Green Jobs movement, the Native American Big Mountain struggle, Racial and Economic Justice and the Occupy movement — this is one area I feel more than qualified to put forth this critique.

Private Summit
This sorely violates the principle of transparency vital to all social movements. The only way for people to develop the level of buy-in needed to build a movement is for them to trust the leadership. If leaders are having exclusive, closed doors discussions on how to move the movement forward, there's no way for for people to: A) know what's going on; B) agree with the strategies moving the movement forward; C) engage in the process; and D) be able to hold the leadership accountable.

Invitation Only Private Summit
The invite-only nature of this meeting not only excludes people and hurts feelings, but is also an expression of hierarchical organizing. As a movement that exults and develops practitioners of flat structures, the exclusive nature of this summit was completely out of line with who we are. It also violates the principle of the invitation inherit to successful social movements. Essentially two white men invited their friends and had a secret, exclusive strategy meeting on the state of the movement and most of us were not invited.

Phyllis Tickle's Alleged Role in All This
When Phyllis's book event was announced as a national gathering, people made some of the assumptions people make about our national gatherings. People wanted to advise Doug about including speakers of color and having a more inclusive space for folks of non-dominant cultures. Doug was quite adamant in communicating that JoPa (Doug and Tony's company) was contracted to produce a book event for Phyllis, that the event was a celebration for Phyllis and would be produced by committee, so to speak.

The invitation states that Phyllis requested this summit in advance of her book event. However, I am told that, during the framing for the meeting, Phyllis actually interjected and said that she did NOT request the summit. One can only surmise that Doug and Tony extended the power bestowed upon them by Phyllis to be exclusive in the organizing of her book event, and seized the opportunity to call a meeting on the future of the Emergent Movement with just the people they wanted in the room. Now I don't know Tony, but I absolutely adore Doug and would defend his honor to a great extent. However, this manipulation of power does nothing to nurture trust in their leadership.
If, in fact, we identify as a Christian social movement, where is the transparency vital to social movements and the flat structure that we so value?

I would like to chalk all this up to ignorance. These guys have been writing incredible books, preaching, and speaking, developing thriving communities of faith and all kinds of great work. They have not however been in the front lines of massive international social movements that would crumble without transparency and open inclusivity. So I am absolutely willing to give these guys the benefit of the doubt as long as we can forgo this kind organizing in the future.

How to Move Forward as a Movement?
Movement building is nothing less than an art form. When done well, it grows participation, increases buy-in and builds consensus. Done badly or not at all, conflict arises, consensus cannot be reached and people leave the movement with bad feelings. I have seen it go both ways. Here's a few movement building tools and opportunities that I can see at a glance:

1- Emergent Village Cohorts
These are local expressions of the Emergent Movement. When veteran movement folks steward these spaces, new people seeking a safe space to explore Christianity outside the box are able to hook in. These are also places where folks who can't afford the conference fees or time to travel to national gatherings can participate and influence the direction of the movement. I'd personally like to thank Mike Clawson for his tireless commitment to maintaining the cohort directory on the Emergent Village site.

2- Emergent Cohort Summit
Cohorts who are able to send someone to our national gatherings, bring news of their local work and report back to their cohort from the gathering. These cross pollinators play a vital role in connecting the work at the local level with that of the national gathering. This would function as part of the feedback loop required to share and get buy-in on the organizing trends emerging from various facets of the movement.

3- Emergent Village
EV could be a open movement platform for finding each other, gathering together, sharing resources, listing movement events, and being the point of entry for newcomers to the movement. Currently there are three people on the board, one of whom is Doug Pagitt and pervasive perception is that EV has become a proprietary brand of Doug's, which is something that needs to change. EV could have a table at every emergent-minded event and become the outreach and organizing platform for the movement, but that will require new leadership.

4- Regional Skill Shares
To share the focus, power, and leadership in the movement with practitioners (a shift from author-centered focus) skill shares could be held and hosted by cohorts around the country. Authors could lend their name and following to support the skill share happening in their region. Practitioners would get the opportunity to share and workshop their stuff in a supportive environment. Folks living in the same regions could meet and find ways to support one another's work. (TransFORM Network is already hosting regional events that could be a platform for this.)

5- Working Groups
Movements need to be stewarded. Emergent Village (as an open non-proprietary entity in this scenario) could issue a call to establish working groups to steward the movement. A few examples of working groups are media, cohort gathering organizing group, finance, cohort resourcing (developing tool kits to help new cohorts start up), and outreach (organize folks to table at emergent-minded events around the country.)

6- Mutual and Collective Liberation
No social movement can survive today without an analysis of all the “isms” of oppression. There is great deal of Biblical basis to the principle of social movements that assert that we are not free while others are oppressed. Progressive white folks who have done work around white privilege along with folks of non-dominant cultures in our movement keep driving this point.
Sadly, this is often met with resistance from folks who haven't adequately explored their own privilege. Without the consciousness of our own privilege, we are ill-equipped to be allies to those of non-dominant cultures. If you notice that your Emergent gathering is mostly white dominant culture folks, it's because this movement has not wholly embraced anti-opression work.
I was recently part of a conference call with movement leaders of color who essentially stated that white people need to talk to other white people about privilege before they feel comfortable inviting their communities of color to be involved. Many people of color need an environment where the legacy of racism that we've inherited needs to be openly acknowledged, before they feel like they belong. White people also commonly express what psychology calls “micro-aggressions.” There are ways that subtle, ingrained expressions of racism get communicated by dominant culture folks without their awareness.

7- Facilitating a Process to Create Demands
If you have seen Brian McLaren speak recently, you know that social movements function to identify and articulate demands of institutions to change. He is very astute to say that we're not ready to articulate cohesive demands as a movement, until we have a more diverse group of folks in the conversation. I would venture to say that while invitation-only private summits are being held in secret to determine the future of the movement, we are not ready to take this step.
This list is not exhaustive and meant only to jumpstart a greater brainstorm and conversation on how to steward and build this movement. With the institutions of church declining in the U.S., this national movement has a powerful role in stewarding Christianity as safe haven and a positive transforming force in people's lives.

Sadly, the follow up from this meeting includes the creation of "secret" Facebook group called "Emergence Christianity (Memphis) Visioning Group."  I can't stress enough how out of alignment this private conversation is. I urge the folks involved to open up the conversation to the wider movement and create the feedback loops needed to make this process transparent. I am told the meeting was recorded and copious notes were made. I encourage the people involved to make this documentation widely available online and end the exclusive manner in which this meeting was planned and carried out.   In order to continue to evolve into this role, the Emergent movement needs to embrace transparency and openness or it will fail.

I offer this critique with love and compassion for my brothers and sisters in this movement and in Christ.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Emergence = Social Change and We're Not Even Talking About Jesus

Reposted from I love this paper about emergence theory in it's larger context, not even relating to Emergence Christianity.  This larger identity known as the Great Western Emergence is really uplifting in terms of social change and cultural shifts.


by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze ©2006

In spite of current ads and slogans, the world doesn't change one person at a time.  It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what's possible.  This is good news for those of us intent on changing the world and creating a positive futureRather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections.  We don't need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits.  Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

But networks aren't the whole story.  As networks grow and transform into active, working communities of practice, we discover how Life truly changes, which is through emergence.   When separate, local efforts connect with each other as networks, then strengthen as communities of practice, suddenly and surprisingly a new system emerges at a greater level of scale.  This system of influence possesses qualities and capacities that were unknown in the individuals.  It isn't that they were hidden; they simply don't exist until the system emerges.  They are properties of the system, not the individual, but once there, individuals possess them.  And the system that emerges always possesses greater power and influence than is possible through planned, incremental change. Emergence is how Life creates radical change and takes things to scale.

Emergence has a life-cycle.  It begins with networks, shifts to intentional communities of practice and evolves into powerful systems capable of global influence.  Since it's inception in 1992, The Berkana Institute has striven to learn how living systems work, how they emerge from networks to communities to systems of influence. In our global work--primarily with economically poor communities in many different nations--we have experimented actively with emergence in many different contexts.  We have demonstrated what's possible when we connect people across difference and distance.  By applying the lessons of living systems and working intentionally with emergence and it's life-cycle, we have become confident that local social innovations can be taken to scale and provide solutions to many of the world's most intractable issues.

Why we need to understand networks

Researchers and social activists are beginning to discover the power of networks and networking.  And there is a growing recognition that networks are the new form of organizing.  Evidence of self-organized networks is everywhere:  social activists, terrorist groups, drug cartels, street gangs, web-based interest groups.  While we now see these everywhere, it is not because they're a new form of organizing.  It's because we've removed our old paradigm blinders that look for hierarchy and control mechanisms in the belief that organization only happens through human will and intervention.

Networks are the only form of organization used by living systems on this planet.  These networks result from self-organization, where individuals  or species recognize their interdependence and organize in ways that support the diversity and viability of all.  Networks create the conditions for emergence, which is how Life changes.    Because networks are the first stage in emergence, it is essential that we understand their dynamics and how they develop into communities and then systems.

Yet much of the current work on networks displays old paradigm bias.  In social network analysis, physical representations of the network are created by mapping relationships.  This is useful for convincing people that networks exist, and people are often fascinated to see the network made visible. Other network analysts name roles played by members of the network or make distinctions between different parts of the network, such as core and periphery. It may not be the intent of these researchers, but their work is often used by leaders to find ways to manipulate the network, to use it in a traditional and controlling way.

What's missing in these analyses is an exploration of  the dynamics of networks.

  • Why do networks form?  What conditions that support their creation?
  • What keeps a network alive and growing?  What keeps members connected?
  • What type of leadership is required?  Why do people become leaders?
  • What type of leadership interferes with or destroys the network?
  • What happens after a healthy network forms? What's next?
  • If we understand these dynamics and the life-cycle of emergence, what can we do as leaders, activists and social entrepreneurs to intentionally foster emergence?

What is Emergence?

Emergence violates so many of our Western assumptions of how change happens that it often takes quite a while to understand it.  In nature, change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss.  Change begins as local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas.  If these changes remain disconnected, nothing happens beyond each locale.  However, when they become connected, local actions can emerge as a powerful system with influence at a more global or comprehensive level.  (Global here means a larger scale, not necessarily the entire planet.)

These powerful emergent phenomena appear suddenly and surprisingly.  Think about how the Berlin Wall suddenly came down, how the Soviet Union ended, how corporate power quickly came to dominate globally.  In each case, there were many local actions and decisions, most of which were invisible and unknown to each other, and none of which was powerful enough by itself to create change.  But when these local changes coalesced, new power emerged.  What could not be accomplished by diplomacy, politics, protests, or strategy suddenly happened.  And when each materialized, most were surprised.  Emergent phenomena always have these characteristics: They exert much more power than the sum of their parts; they always possess new capacities different from the local actions that engendered them; they always surprise us by their appearance.

It is important to note that emergence always results in a powerful system that has many more capacities than could ever be predicted by analyzing the individual parts. We see this in the behavior of hive insects such as bees and termites.  Individual ants possess none of the intelligence or skills that are in the hive.  No matter how intently scientists study the behavior of individual ants, they can never see the behavior of the hive.  Yet once the hive forms, each ant acts with the intelligence and skillfulness of the whole.

This aspect of emergence has profound implications for social entrepreneurs.  Instead of developing them individually as leaders and skillful practitioners, we would do better to connect them to like-minded others and create the conditions for emergence.  The skills and capacities needed by them will be found in the system that emerges, not in better training programs.

Because emergence only happens through connections, Berkana has developed a four stage model that catalyzes connections as the means to achieve global level change.  Our philosophy is to “Act locally, connect regionally, learn globally.”  We focus on discovering pioneering efforts and naming them as such.  We then connect these efforts to other similar work globally.  We nourish this network in many ways, but most essentially through creating opportunities for learning and sharing of experiences and shifting into communities of practice.  We also illuminate the work of these pioneering efforts so that many more people will learn from them.  We are attempting to work intentionally with emergence so that small, local efforts can become a global force for change.


The Life-Cycle of Emergence

Stage One: Networks.
  We live in a time when coalitions, alliances and networks are forming as the means to create societal change.  There are ever more networks and now, networks of networks.  These networks are essential for people finding like-minded others, the first stage in the life-cycle of emergence.  It's important to note that networks are only the beginning.  They are based on self-interest--people usually network together for their own benefit and to develop their own work.  Networks tend to have fluid membership; people move in and out of them based on how much they personally benefit from participating.

Stage Two: Communities of Practice
. Networks make it possible for people to find others engaged in similar work.  The second stage of emergence is the development of communities of practice (CofPs).  Many such smaller, individuated communities can spring from a robust network.  CofPs are also self-organized. People share a common work and realize there is great benefit to being in relationship.  They use this community to share what they know, to support one another, and to intentionally create new knowledge for their field of practice.  These CofPs differ from networks in significant ways.  They are communities, which means that people make a commitment to be there for each other;  they participate not only for their own needs, but to serve the needs of others.

In a community of practice, the focus extends beyond the needs of the group.  There is an intentional commitment to advance the field of practice, and to share those discoveries with a wider audience. They make their resources and knowledge available to anyone , especially those doing related work.

The speed with which people learn and grow in a community of practice is noteworthy. Good ideas move rapidly amongst members. New knowledge and practices are implemented quickly.  The speed at which knowledge development and exchange happens is crucial, because local regions and the world need this knowledge and wisdom now.

Stage Three: Systems of Influence.
The third stage in emergence can never be predicted. It is the sudden appearance of a system that has real power and influence. Pioneering efforts that hovered at the periphery suddenly become the norm. The practices developed by courageous communities become the accepted standard.
People no longer hesitate about adopting these approaches and methods and they learn them easily Policy and funding debates now include the perspectives and experiences of these pioneers.  They become leaders in the field and are acknowledged as the wisdom keepers for their particular issue.  And critics who said it could never be done suddenly become chief supporters (often saying they knew it all along.)

Emergence is the fundamental scientific explanation for how local changes can materialize as global systems of influence.  As a change theory, it offers methods and practices to accomplish the systems-wide changes that are so needed at this time.   As leaders and communities of concerned people, we need to intentionally work with emergence so that our efforts will result in a truly hopeful future.   No matter what other change strategies we have learned or favored, emergence is the only way change really happens on this planet.   And that is very good news.



Margaret Wheatley is a well-respected writer, speaker, and teacher for how we can accomplish our work, sustain our relationships, and willingly step forward to serve in this troubling time. She has written six books: Walk Out Walk On (with Deborah Frieze, 2011); Perseverance (2010); Leadership and the New Science; Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future; A Simpler Way (with Myron Rogers); and Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. Each of her books has been translated into several languages; Leadership and the New Science appears in 18 languages. She is co-founder and President emerita of The Berkana Institute, which works in partnership with a rich diversity of people and communities around the world, especially in the Global South. These communities find their health and resilience by discovering the wisdom and wealth already present in their people, traditions and environment ( Wheatley received her doctorate in Organizational Behavior and Change from Harvard University, and a Masters in Media Ecology from New York University. She's been an organizational consultant since 1973, a global citizen since her youth, a professor in two graduate business programs, a prolific writer, and a happy mother and grandmother. She has received numerous awards and honorary doctorates. You may read her complete bio at, and may download any of her many articles (free) at

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All photos by Margaret Wheatley.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Emergents Need to Embrace Anti Oppression with Inclusivity and Humility

If Wild Goose West is any indication, the Emergent movement is looking more and more like a gathering of the proverbial tribes right now. For more than ten years this movement has been emerging, but now it looks more like a converging of cultures. 

While we acknowledge and understand the history that (post) Evangelicals founded this movement, we are now in a time where new people and cultures are coming into the conversation and we are going to evolve into a broader shared identity than the label "Evangelical."

Since I should only really tell my story, I'll use me as an example. I have been around the Emergent movement for a little more than a year now and I come to the conversation with influences like New Age, Buddhism, Activism and Nonviolence. I am not even close to identifying with the word Evangelical and so even as a middle class white woman, I am looking for my place in our shared identity.  Here's my story in a nutshell.

I broke up with Jesus in high school when an evangelical bible study teacher told my best friend that her father who was dead and Muslim, was in hell. It took me 20 years and several Rob Bell books to get over the wounds from Christianity that I found in myself and others. I called my sister in tears when I realized I could call myself a Christian again.  She said something that moved me. "Honey you have always had Jesus, you just let other people define him for you."  As Yvette Flunder would say, I had "get back my God", get back my Jesus, before I could be a part of this conversation.  So I know a little something about needing to have old wounds acknowledged in order to feel safe in this emerging conversation.  And while as a white woman in the US, I can never know what it is to be colonized and marginalized, I have reason to understand why inclusivity and oppression must be integral to everything we do.

All social justice movements have to deal with the fallout of historical oppression.  In 1999, racial justice teacher and activist, Elizabeth Betita Martinez wrote an open letter to the Global Justice Movement after the largely white protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization.  It cast ripples of disgruntled reactions, push back and waves of white guilt across the movement.  Some NGO's had to completely dismantle their boards and rebuild.  Clearly, we're not the first to deal with this wave of consciousness and we could learn a lot if we're open and willing to listen.

Where Was the Color in Seattle? Looking for Reasons Why the Great Battle Was So White

Since we follow Jesus, this movement is, in the context of this society, and by HIS very nature, about social justice and hospitality. It's the integrity and backbone of our movement as Christians. I'm not a big Bible quoter and certainly no scholar,  but I am a fan of the times when Jesus embraced someone of a different culture, breaking customs and norms to show them grace, love and inclusion. One such example in the Gospel of John, is the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (from The Message.)

7-8 A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

This year at the Wild Goose Festival, the programming exhibited a strong, integrated and reoccurring thread of anti oppression work. I attended multiple sessions, led by people of color (POC). I actually heard the history timeline of the colonization of the first nations people and land of where we camping twice, once from main stage and again in a session.  First nations people began and concluded the festival from the main stage and I will never forget the talk on Radical Inclusion by Yvette Flunder on the main stage.

Wild Goose organizers understand that we've inherited a history of oppression that has to be acknowledged to be inclusive of folks from colonized or oppressed ethnicities.  Sorry to quote Billy Joel here but "we didn't start the fire" but guess what, it is still burning.  Some of us are warmed and privileged by this fire, while some of us have been used as kindling. Do we think POC are going to invite their families and friends to this conversation if they feel like a basic acknowledegement of anti oppression and inclusivity are not being practiced?

Would we invite our friends to a party where we feel like they might be offended? People of color in our movement know how to be allies to their folks at home and already work as translators between their various cultures.  They aren't going to create an invitation to their communities unless it feels safe to do so. If we embrace this work, our Emergent minded friends of color will likely be more inclined to promote Emergent gatherings to their communities. 

We have to embrace this emphasis and inclusion of anti-oppression content and organizing in all of our events and gatherings. Randy Woodley's recent call to action for white speakers to boycott "all white" conferences (Read the Call to Action here) is a powerful and direct challenge to us to get more intentional about about how we work.  He writes in his blog:

"I’m putting out a challenge to all White Christian speakers to boycott every “Whites Only” conference or meeting. Simply refuse to speak unless there is significant minority representation that goes beyond tokenism. And if you are an attendee, you can make a change by not supporting the hypocrisy of exclusivity and tokenism. Simply write the organizers and scheduled speakers and tell them how you feel. If they don’t respond, don’t buy a ticket and don’t attend. It’s got to start somewhere. How about with you?"

What an incredible opportunity to rise to the challenge and ensure that no one ever feels the need to exclude themselves from Emergent events due to a lack of consciousness around inclusivity and race.

We have amazing POC in this movement stepping up to teach us how to behave.  Bruce Reyes-Chow session on Race Wild Goose West was entirely comprised of him quoting things white people say that are not helpful to having productive conversations about race, and him explaining why.  He's one of many POC reaching out to us in this movement to teach us and bring us all together.  It's better if we white folks approach the topic with an open mind.  We should check their ego, come with a humble heart and be receptive to learning.

Bruce Reyes-Chow's 10 Unhelpful Things We Say About Race 

So very selfishly (so I can keep showing up at Emergent gatherings, my lifeblood) I humbly beg my privileged white identified brothers and sisters that when a person of color engages us in a conversation about how things could be different somehow please, please, please engage in the following as applicable, and in any order:

listen, trust outside of your own experience, become willing to look at your own behavior, pray about it, acknowledge when you can see their point, make amends, seek to lift up the voices of POC and often make them louder, remember that we can be the corrective to oppression by putting more emphasis on it, spend some time on it, take an oppression 101 class, look to our allies of color who are trying to lead us in this work, check each others behavior with love, never say you aren't a racist if you were raised in the US, (it's a racist country historically, racism is alive and well today and it's in us), so don't expect yourself to never express a behavior rooted in racism - it happens so forgive yourself, correct the behavior and move along . . . .

To our conference planners, event organizers and conveners movement wide, please . . . . 

. . . embrace this work, try really really hard to never have panels of all white people, set aside scholarship money for youth of color for admission fees, flights and hotels, plan for inclusivity from the beginning of your conference planning so you don't end up scrambling for a brown person the week before your panel which becomes tokenistic, have POC in on the organizing of the event and in a leadership position from day one . . .

To all the leaders who are still asking the question "how do we diversify?" please stop thinking this way.  Instead let's ask ourselves what needs to happen in us in order to provide an invitation that isn't tokenistic in nature, but instead rooted in an authentic and holistic sense of shared and mutual liberation. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what needs to happen, merely a start, and a invitation to engage in this conversation. If any community of people can handle this challenge with grace, it's the Emerging Church movement. We have the model of Jesus to look to and we have the Holy Spirit working in us.  By the grace of God, may we all feel invited and welcomed to this conversation and live out this powerful opportunity to become a corrective to colonization and oppression.

Thanks, Holly Roach

Holly is a long time activist who ran away with the film industry for seven years.  She's currently back to community organizing in her neighborhood on the south side of Santa Fe and lives to soak up all things Emergent. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Cymbrogi, the Didache, and Postmodern Followers of the Way

I wanted to share the following excerpt from "The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community" by Tony Jones. It loosely describes what we have been doing here in Santa Fe. I am not sure how many of us have read this book if any, but this selection stood out to me as a modern example or model for communities like ours.

I have not yet finished the book, but I highly recommend it based on what I have read so far. I recommend reading and/or watching all of Tony Jones' materials. He is very relevant to a postmodern Christianity (whatever that means).

Here are a couple reviews of Jones' book

Monday, October 3, 2011

We Awaken in Christ's Body

We awaken in Christ's body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? -- Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ's body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

What in the World is Postmodernism?

Postmodernism thus is not relativism or scepticism, as its uncomprehending critics almost daily charge, but minutely close attention to detail, a sense for the complexity and multiplicity of things, for close readings, for detailed histories, for sensitivity to differences. The postmodernists think the devil is in the details, but they also have reason to hope that none of this will antagonize God. For are not the modernists rather like the Shemites, furiously at work on the tower of Babel, on the “system,” as Kierkegaard would say with biting irony, and are not the postmodernists following the lead of God, who in deconstructing the tower clearly favors a multiplicity of languages, frameworks, paradigms, perspectives, angles? From a religious point of view, does not postmodernism argue that God’s point of view is reserved for God, while the human standpoint is immersed in the multiplicity of angles? (pp. 49-50)
– John D. Caputo, Philosophy and Theology