Daily Engagement with EcoFaith Recovery’s

“Practices for Awakening Leadership”

EcoFaith Recovery’s Pastor/Organizer committed herself to write on one of EcoFaith Recovery’s Practices for Awakening Leadership each day beginning September 1, 2017 using 28 day Daily Practice Calendar. She is sharing her writing with those who subscribe to EcoFaith’s Daily Practice Listserve and are likewise welcome to share their reflections with the listserve. Contact her if you would like to be subscribed to the listserve. The reflections she has shared to date are below from newest to oldest.

Practice #7a Restore Balance (December 7, 2017)

We restore our bodies and spirits, practicing Sabbath and regaining a balance of work and rest, as modeled in Scripture and creation.

 

I was moved by this passage from Wayne Muller’s book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives (pages 5-7).

“If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time-- effortless, nourishing rest--can invite a healing of this violence. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us….

Sabbath time can be a revolutionary challenge to the violence of overwork, mindless accumulation, and the endless multiplication of desires, responsibilities, and accomplishments. Sabbath is a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gift of spirit and eternity.

Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center. ‘Remember the Sabbath’ means ‘Remember that everything you have received is a blessing. Remember to delight in your life, in the fruits of your labor. Remember to stop and offer thanks for the wonder of it.’...

Sabbath honors the necessary wisdom of dormancy. If certain plant species, for example, do not lie dormant for winter, they will not bear fruit in the spring. If this continues for more than a season, the plant begins to die. If dormancy continues to be prevented, the entire species will die. A period of rest--in which nutrition and fertility most readily coalesce--is not simply a human psychological convenience; it is a spiritual and biological necessity. A lack of dormancy produces confusion and erosion in the life force.

We, too, must have a period in which we lie fallow, and restore our souls. In Sabbath time we remember to celebrate what is beautiful and sacred; we light candles, sing songs, tell stories, eat, nap, and make love. It is a time to let our work, our lands, our animals lie fallow, to be nourished and refreshed. Within this sanctuary, we become available to the insights and blessings of deep mindfulness that arise only in stillness and time. When we act from a place of deep rest, we are more capable of cultivating what the Buddhists would call right understanding, right action, and right effort. In a complex and unstable world, if we do not rest, if we do not surrender into some kind of Sabbath, how can we find our way, how can we hear the voices that tell us the right thing to do?”

Practice #6a Reflect on our Actions… being more conscious and intentional about this (December 6, 2017)

Personal Dimension: We evaluate our actions and the ways we use or experience power, integrating what each experience has to teach us, by regularly reflecting, praying, and/or spending time in conscious relationship with the natural world.

I find it is easy to go through life simply reacting. Formed by my genetic, historical and environmental influences, I can behave in ways that are merely habit or socialization. It takes time and space to engage in quality reflection. And the fruits of reflection are influenced by the context in which I engage in that reflection. The kind of reflection in which I engage will be different if I am in a dark room with no windows verses if I am taking a walk outside or journaling in a comfy chair with a beautiful view of the natural world. I would like to be more conscious, more intentional, and more connected with the natural world around me when I engage in reflection. And I am realizing that I need to take responsibility for making this an even higher priority in my daily schedule.

Practice #5a - Act Together (faith based organizing) (December 5, 2017)

Personal: We discern our unique call to participate with others in organized actions, for the sake of mending the brokenness in our communities, and restoring our connection to the places we live.

 

Ever since I was on internship over two decades ago now, I have wanted to be part of a congregation that was engaged in faith-based organizing. I got a taste of it on internship and realized that there actually was a way that I, along with others, could allow my faith to have an impact in the public arena. Apparently good things do sometimes come to those who wait. Our congregational council voted a month or two ago to join our local affiliate of the Industrial Areas of Foundation. Tonight we had the first meeting of our congregation’s core team for this organizing effort. We are beginning a congregational listening season now to help us discern our individual interests where “acting together” is concerned. After a lot of prayer and discernment, we are following God into the public arena.

Practice #4a (Monday, December 5, 2017) - Mentor One Another (receiving mentoring from the trees where I live)

Practice #4 Personal Dimension: Recognizing the deeply relational nature of the universe, we acknowledge our need for mentors from the whole community of creation for the sake of our own development as leaders.

My spouse and I are new homeowners. As such, we spend a lot of time observing the land and house where we live. The trees drop leaves, pinecones and other organic matter. Now that the seasonal rain has come to Oregon, moss is growing everywhere: the roof, the decking, the side of the fence, and the foundation of the house! All of this is new to us, but I am sure this is just part of the natural cycle that this little ecosystem has established over many decades. I am seeking to learn from these creatures and this place how things work here and how to work with or fit into this established system.

Of course, I seek to play an active role in this system and not simply passively accept anything that might happen here. Moss is beautiful when I am hiking in a forest. But I am not interested in watching the moss grow unchecked all over the roof and decking here.

It is humbling to be the newcomer and feel like I have so much to learn, especially from the trees that look down on us each day. There is an old Douglas Fir tree, a Scots pine, a beautiful old Japanese Maple, and others. Whether such trees are ideally suited to this bioregion or to a suburban neighborhood is a conversation for another day. For the moment, these trees and I all live here, and we are community with each other. Our actions can have a big impact on one another. We can enhance one another’s life; under the right circumstances, we are each powerful enough to do great harm to the other, possibly even ending the life of the other.

I am among those who has sometimes idealized the idea of community, but living in community is another thing! It is not easy. These trees irritate me when their roots push up the driveway or when they drop sap or pinecones on my car or when they threaten to crack the foundation of the house. But as their efforts slowly accelerate the decomposition of the built environment that appears so stable in one moment and so fragile in the next, they remind me of the futility of my efforts whenever I am working against the natural systems and flow of the larger community of life. And they mentor me in what it looks like to engage in slow and steady resistance over months and years. That is a powerful form of mentoring and I and so many others need so very much these days.

Practice #3a, Discover Our Stories (December 3, 2017)

Personal dimension: “We discover the power of our own stories and the ways our stories have been shaped by the land as well as our cultures, economies, religious traditions, political systems, and personal and collective histories.”

 

My personal story, and the stories of others are constantly being shaped by many forces and factors beyond my control. However, I often do not think about those factors, such as why they exist, whose interests they are designed to serve, and what impact those forces have upon my life. Today is different. The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have each passed tax bills that will soon be reconciled with one another. I am angry about many things I see in those bills. I am angry about some things that seem fundamentally unfair. There is something in human nature that seems designed to acclimate to changing circumstances. This can be an advantage when my life circumstances suddenly change and I need to adapt quickly. However, it can be a disadvantage if it causes me to adapt to things that are fundamentally unjust rather than harnessing my anger to work for a world or greater compassion and justice. As people engaged in Family Systems work often say, if we can “harvest the offense” we can more clearly identify the deep underlying values that are triggering the anger. In that way, I grow to learn more about my own story.

Practice #2: Develop Relationships (December, 2017)

Personal dimension: We develop a compassionate relationship with our powerful yet limited selves as beloved by the indwelling God, and deeply connected to all other powerful yet limited beings.

They say that laughter is the best medicine. In late September, I and many others had an opportunity to gather in the longhouse of the Celilo Wyam people of the Columbia River Gorge. A Presbyterians for Earthcare conference had arranged for us to have an opportunity to visit this tribe and get to know one another better of a salmon dinner. After sharing food and stories, one Chinook leader who was present at the gathering offered to teach us a few of his tribe’s circle dances. One that I will never forget was a dance designed to help us not take ourselves too seriously. The gathered community danced around in a circle but every so often the music stopped. At that point, we were to stop dancing and use one hand to point at them and laugh while we used our other hand to point at ourselves. We simultaneously laughed at them and ourselves and the laughter was contagious.

I have sat in on gatherings of pastors or other leaders where one person risked getting honest with the group by telling a story that exposes something ridiculous about his/her own thinking or behavior. The storyteller tells on himself or herself and laughs, We laugh right along with them, not only because the story is funny, but usually also because we recognize ourselves in that story. We laugh unusually hard because, while we are laughing at them, we are simultaneously laughing at ourselves. That laughter is contagious and healing. Such laughter does not only help me feel closer to that individual who has exposed some embarrassing vulnerability or another. It brings me closer to myself by causing me to simply accept or possibly even enjoy some limitation or imperfection about myself. When hearing such a story about another person and accepting the invitation to join this other human being in laughter at some brokenness or vulnerability, I am so often able to embrace that same brokenness or vulnerability in myself. And my relationship with myself grows deeper in love and compassion.

+ + +

Practice #1: Access Spiritual Power (December, 2017)

Personal Dimension: We acknowledge and name the destructive powers we experience in our lives, and seek the God of love, whose life-giving power is accessible through our embodied experience in creation.

There is so much I could say about the power of this practice. But perhaps the most important thing is that when I do what is says, life gets better. And the more often I do this, the more fully and freely God’s life-giving power seems to flow through my life.

Practice #5a - Act Together...

Personal: We discern our unique call to participate with others in organized actions, for the sake of mending the brokenness in our communities, and restoring our connection to the places we live.

This practice reminds me that my call is unique and that it is needed in taking action within the relational communities of which I am part. But it also reminds me that I am called to act “with others” as I offer that unique contribution.  My call is only understandable as “unique” because it exists within a larger community of people and creatures who also have a “unique call” to participate “with others” in organized actions.

An important action took place recently in connection with a movement for justice about which I care very much. I wanted to go. If I had infinite energy and did not need sleep, I would have been there. But other members of my community were attending, and they have been exercising leadership in this effort on behalf of our whole congregation. I trusted them to represent us. If it would have been super important for me to be there for this particular action, I trust they would have told me that. And so I continued to put my energy into organizing the other efforts that I have sensed (and which they have affirmed) I am uniquely called to help lead.

This all leads me to remember some of my mentors, the bees, who fly around here and there. Yet upon locating the flowers with rich nectar, they make a beeline home and perform a dance to offer their unique contribution to other bees by use of a dance that communicates both direction and distance to the source of life. As I and others from my community recover and rediscover some of the wisdom our Creator has knit into the very fabric of creation, I am reminded that there are times to expand out and explore and experiment with my unique God-given call. And then there are also those times when I sense that I have a particular contribution that I am called to offer “with others” for the sake of the community. In those times, it is important that I not take on everything but that I help lead those particular, unique actions that I am called to take with others. It seems to me that this is precisely one of those times.

Practice #4a - Mentor One Another… through spontaneous affirmations

Practice #4 Personal Dimension: Recognizing the deeply relational nature of the universe, we acknowledge our need for mentors from the whole community of creation for the sake of own development as leaders.

In the context of a ministry conversation, I asked a question. An  EcoFaith colleague shook her head and said, “You are really good at asking good questions, Robyn.” I am? “Oh, yes. You are.” added another colleague who was present. Wow. After all of these years, how did I not know that colleagues in ministry saw me in this way?

I hope I will never think of myself as too old to be able to learn something new about myself. I need mentors who can help me see myself more clearly. I need mentors to challenge me to grow. Ongoing relationships with those who mentor me and with those I have chosen to mentor are incredibly important. But I also want to stay open to the moment by moment opportunities that emerge when I can be spontaneously mentored by somebody I was not expecting.  Since receiving that gift from two colleagues, I have been watching for spontaneous opportunities to share affirmations with others about things they may or may not see in themselves. It is nice to see the light go on within them as they wake up to something new or simply appreciate being noticed, just as my colleagues did for me.

Practice #1,2,3a -  Migration Stories

#1 - We acknowledge and name the destructive powers we experience in our lives, and seek the God of love, whose life-giving power is accessible through our embodied experience in creation.

#2 - We develop a compassionate relationship with our powerful yet limited selves as beloved by the indwelling God, and deeply connected to all other powerful yet limited beings.

#3 -  We discover the power of our own stories, and the ways our stories have been shaped by the land as well as our cultures, economies, religious traditions, political systems, and personal and collective histories.

An article in the Oregonian Newspaper article from February, 2012 predicted that massive amount of debris from the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami would wash up on Oregon shores years later. What they did not predict was the number of displaced creatures that would come along for the ride. The largest and longest marine migration ever documented has resulted in more than a million members of 300 different species of fish, mussels and other creatures making the post tsunami journey from Japan to the United States. Many more creatures survived the migration than usual because of all of the plastics that the tsunami sent across the ocean (like partially flooded boats with fish inside). It was a combination of a natural event with man made contributors in the form of plastic floatation devices which caused many more species to survive the journey. If these species are able to take hold here, they might push out native species.

An article that came out a few days ago in the Oregonian about the continuing arrival of these migrating creatures has gotten me thinking about my own migration and that of my ancestors. Over a decade ago, I was incredibly fortunate to get to travel back to Germany with my brother to visit the places from which our ancestors came. I am still seeking to understand why those people, my people, were the ones who left when so many others stayed behind. I suspect there were pull factors in the form of currents of new opportunities that sent them across the ocean. But I also believe there were push factors. They may not have experienced physical earthquakes, but there were international wars that created seismic events in the lives of families and communities. (I suspect that one of my great grandfathers and his brother may have been avoiding a draft into a war they did not want to fight when they left Germany for America.) There were probably social fault lines in families and communities that pushed some people to leave. There were economic tremors that left people wanting greater stability and possibility. So it was that over a dozen of my ancestors moved West and ultimately settled in Iowa. They brought their German culture and their Protestant faith with them. They did not directly push out the native people and disrupt the native vegetation in the rural Iowa land where they settled, but they purchased land from those who did. They were part of that same global migration event, even though they were not the first to arrive. While they may have been fleeing certain disruptions in the places they came from, they also brought disruptions right along with them.

My parent later left Iowa farm country and settled in suburban Chicago. I grew up there and then left the Midwest altogether and moved to the West Coast. It is not hard to see the ways in which I am truly a child of immigrant, settler peoples. I have continued in their path, and I am seeking to understand what that complicated legacy means. On the one hand, I have fled destructive powers in search of life-giving opportunities I believed would bring life to myself and others. On the other hand, I have participated in destructive movements that are causing great harm to the land and to peoples who were pushed out when I or my people arrived.

I have listened to the news since yesterday and heard snippets of the story of the shooter who killed about 60 people and injured hundreds more. Some say he was pure evil. Maybe. Others say we need more gun control. I certainly agree. I have also read in the news that the shooter experienced a major disruption in his life at the age of seven years old when the FBI came to his family’s home and arrested his father, identifying him as somebody who had long been on the FBI’s most wanted list.  Thereafter people told him that his father was dead. Yet he was the only one of his father’s children who was old enough to have understood some of what was happening and hear about it in the community. Is there any chance that this destructive earthquake in the life of a seven year old and its inevitable aftershocks left cracks in his mind or soul that he carried across the country and across the decades. Perhaps time will tell. The point remains: our stories matter.

Understanding how all of this fits together is not easy work.  So as I continue to seek to understand how my own story and the story of my people has both helped and harmed various earth communities, I am grateful to know that a God of love accompanies me. It is only that knowledge that grounds me in a source of courage and humility that enables me to repent from the ways I knowingly or unknowingly participate in the destruction of all life God holds dear. It is that knowledge that gives me faith that God can and does realign my will and my life with the love of One who continues to bring new life out of death even death itself.

Practice #7d - Restore Balance (or why I need you and these Practices) (September, 2017)

Public Sphere: We intentionally practice healthy cycles of public engagement, participating in organized actions while also taking time to celebrate, grieve, and restore our energy, in keeping with the Sabbath rhythms of the God of creation.

 

I was fortunate to be with a few dozen people at the most recent EcoFaith Institute when a couple of the participants made the connection that "restoring balance" is not only the seventh of the practices. It is also the purpose of all of the practices.

 

I come to EcoFaith Recovery as a leadership development initiative, not only because I want to be effective, but also because I want to be spiritually grounded, faithful, and balanced in my leadership. I have long known that the dominant culture is incredibly powerful. I see it in my own life every day. I see it in the lives of others around me.  I really appreciate some aspect of that dominant culture. Other parts seem to work against everything I hold dear and believe to be in the interest of the common good.

 

So I come to this movement that we are co-creating together because I desperately need a counter-culture that will help carry me back to a "God who grants me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." It is so easy for me to try to control outcomes, to try too hard and end up unintentionally trying to be God. (I think I come by that tendency honestly through that same dominant culture in which I was raised.) It is equally easy for me to become overwhelmed when the odds are stacked against justice for marginalized people and a sustainable planet for all. In such cases I subtly begin to lose hope that positive change is even possible. I end up unintentionally allowing the dominant culture to seduce me away from living in hope and acting boldly for God's love and justice. When this happens, I get overwhelmed, and on some level, I quit. (I think this is a characteristic that serves certain powers within the dominant culture and which they encourage. Afterall, if they can get me and others to check out, then they win.)

 

I know neither of these two options are aligned with the call to faith active in love that I receive from a God who I know through Jesus. Gathering with my community of faith for worship, education or action helps restore me in that faith. But to exercise whatever leadership I can offer in my limited sphere, I need a community of fellow practitioners seeking to reform many of the ways the dominant culture is expressing itself through our lives and through our public institutions. I need a counter-cultural community who likewise desires to engage in a set of spiritual and relational practices. It has been my experience already this month, that "working these practices" is restoring balance to me as I seek to engage them in every dimension of my life. It is my hope that continuing to do so with others of you who desire this, too, will help us restore balance within our communities and our public institutions... not only for ourselves but for the sake of the generations to come.

 

Practice #6d - Reflect on our Actions (especially when we fail) (September, 2017)

Public Sphere: We collectively reflect on and evaluate the power dynamics of all public actions, including their impact on relationship development, leadership capacity, public systems, marginalized communities and the natural world.

I am struck by the number of times in the Bible when Jesus engaged in a public action or told a public story and then engaged in reflection upon it with his disciples. His followers saw what he did or engaged in an “action” with hi and then had opportunity to reflect on and learn from it afterwards.

One of the most courageous public reflections on an action I ever experienced continues to inspire me to this day. A leader from Leaven Community in Portland, Oregon stood before a group of about 40 faith-based leaders who were learning about faith-based organizing. “We did not do a good enough job with our power analysis,” she declared. As she spoke these words of confession, it was clear that she was still angry about this mistake and frustrated that she and her community had made it. They had done their one-to-one conversations and had brought the results back to full group discernment. They heard that young adults were carrying too much student loan debt and other forms of debt at interest rates that were too high. Entrepreneurs in their community who had wonderful visions for how to start small enterprises that would deepen community and move the local economy towards ecological sustainability were being denied loans because the loan amounts were too low. They identified an issue as the need to provide smaller loans at reasonable interest rates for important community purposes and they developed a strategy that they thought would work.

So Leaven Community negotiated with an important leader at the credit union who agreed that if this Money Move was accomplished and resulted in several dozen new accounts at his institution, he would make it possible for these new investors to offer portions of their savings as collateral for the the kinds of loans that Leaven Community was wanting to make possible. So Leaven Community moved forward in organizing a “Money Move”  which would engage dozens of people in moving their money out of big banks into a community credit union.

They educated their community about how moving their money collectively could have a big impact. They created a ritual action in which they gathered together on one Saturday so they could all move their money on the same day. They educated the larger community so that people like me who were not official Leaven members agreed to move our money along with them. They completed an amazing “Money Move” and returned to the credit union leader with whom they had been negotiating only to hear him say he would now need to check all of this out with his boss. They were surprised by this statement as they had assumed that his promise to them meant that he was the key decision maker. But he said he had to check with his boss, and his boss said “no.” The vision that inspired this “Money Move” would not move forward even though their credit union was the beneficiary of dozens of new accounts because of it. They had not done their power analysis effectively. They had not been in conversation with the key decision makers. They were learning from this defeat, and I would imagine that none of the leaders who had been engaged in that action and subsequent reflection would ever make that mistake again. Because they risked to share with the rest of us the nature of a painful defeat they had suffered and what they had learned from it, their public reflection will likely ensure that the 40 of us who were in the room will not make that particular mistake either.  This is how I am blessed to learn and grow as a leaders in community with others who are willing to take risks, sometimes fail, and always keep learning.

Practice #5d
Act Together (or “Why I am drawn to faith-based organizing”)
(September, 2017)

Public Sphere: We join or develop community organizing efforts, through which we identify mutual interests, research issues, conduct power analyses and act together to promote greater justice for human communities and the community of creation.

My first career was as a social studies educator. My purpose was to not only educate but inspire high schoolers to become engaged citizens in the democratic project to which our country aspires. Many people have sacrificed their lives over the generations so that we might have the gift of a democratic way of life. However, democracy simply cannot exist without a highly engaged citizenry. My second career has been as a parish pastor. As we approach the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I am reminded of the many people who risked their lives and in some cases died for this notion that God’s grace is available to all and that God calls each and every one of us to participate in God’s work of love, compassion and justice in the world. God simply refuses to do it without us.

My own identity as a beloved child of God and responsibility to be a highly engaged citizen come together in the arena of faith-based community organizing. The congregation I serve is exploring the possibility of membership in the Metropolitan Alliance of the Common Good which is the Portland, Oregon affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation.  The Industrial Areas Foundation is the largest and longest standing network of local faith and community based organizations which works to develop leadership within member institutions, carry out “citizen-led actions” and forge relationships across lines that often divide people from one another. Its broad-based organizing projects enable people to act on their most deeply held convictions and those held by their faith community or other organizations.

The challenges of the time in which we live are great. I feel it every day. Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” That is precisely why I am so deeply drawn to community organizing.

Practice #4d
Mentor One Another to be Public Protectors of the Water and the Land
(September, 2017)

Public
Sphere: We seek out experienced leaders of public actions to
mentor,
challenge and teach us as we learn to express our power in the public arena.

 

I felt deeply grateful to attend a conference yesterday and today that was put on by
Presbyterians for Earth Care called
 “Spirit of the Salmon: Water, Culture and Justice in the Columbia Watershed.” The conference was organized by Jenny Holmes and her team in partnership with the tribes of the Columbia River Gorge, and it was amazing. People from local Columbia River tribes welcomed us to a salmon dinner in their longhouse right across from the site where the construction of the Dalles Dam flooded Celilo Falls. This had been the sacred salmon fishing site where tribal people had
been gathering to fish for thousands upon thousands of years. Prior to the
dinner, we had stood there beside the river at the place where the falls used
to run. A woman from a tribe further north led us in a healing ceremony for the
Columbia River. We stood along its banks and prayed in the four directions and
then poured clean water and tobacco into the river as an offering Another elder
listened to an hour long conversation we were having confronting hard truths
about the need to repudiate the
 Doctrine of Discovery
which married church to political power and economic development in a
calculated effort that all but destroyed these native American peoples. We
confronted hard truths as well as the need for truth-telling, repentance,
reconciliation and healing. We acknowledged that this will only be accomplished
over many generations. After listening to all of this, Jenny invited one of
Native American elder to address our group. He said, “You are beginning to ask the
right questions.”

 

Among the things that these mentors shared with us were specific examples of ways their tribes had sought to take care of the water, land and animals, recognizing that
it we don’t take care of them, they won’t take care of us. Interestingly
enough, none of these mentors talked about engaging in protests. They talked
about public actions in which they pray for the water and see themselves as
water protectors. They talked about working with lawyers to pressure governments
to enforce their rights under treaties signed in the 1800’s. They talked about
wanting to restore fish to their rivers by gaining more water from water
managers who told them “Why do you want water when you have not fish?” They
talked about seeking fish from another branch of government that then told
them, “Why do you want fish when you do not have enough water.” They talked,
not only about the tears they had cried and devastation they had experienced,
but about the resilience they had learned and the resources upon which they
draw. They talked about the supreme importance of laughing, first at yourself,
and then with others in the midst of such realities. And then they invited us
to get up and join them in a community dance in which we laughed at ourselves
and laughed at and with one another. These were my mentors in how we not only
take action together but how we orient our minds and hearts to our deepest
purpose and how we maintain our spiritual and physical resilience even when
being met with defeat after defeat after defeat. These mentors showed me that
it is not only possible to do these things but that it is necessary.

 

Practice # 3d Discovering our Stories… and a little child shall lead us (September 24, 2017)

Public Sphere: We discover our collective power by sharing our stories in the public arena to develop as community leaders and advance human and environmental justice.

 

A few years ago, a number of leaders of various faith communities that were all connected with EcoFaith Recovery had joined a larger organizing effort to show up at a hearing regarding the expansion of coal exports along the Columbia River Gorge.  We knew there would be opportunities for those in attendance to speak to a panel that would be making recommendations. Depending upon what the panel recommended, it would then become easier or more difficult to expand the export of fossil fuels through our region. There were more people wanting two minute speaking slots than there were hours available for testimony. So a table had been set up in the entryway where any attendees who desired could sign up for the lottery of available speaking slots.  

 

As our group arrived at the table, one of our leaders picked up a stack of lottery cards and called out, “Who wants to put your name in for the lottery?” Most of our leaders decided pretty quickly that they wanted to submit their name on a card in the hopes of sharing their story. The son of our of our leaders volunteered, too. I am trying to remember if he was three years old or perhaps four at that time. I assumed he was with us that day, as he sometimes was on other days, because his mother did not have child care available. The thought that he might volunteer was nowhere in my consciousness. I got the sense that his mom was as surprised as the rest of us that he was interested in publicly telling his story.   Perhaps it should not have surprised us. His parents had been part of various community organizing efforts in the past and had helped found the Wilderness Way Community whose mission is to “cultivate wild Christian disciples and fearless spiritual leaders.” This son of the community was clearly ready to embody this mission.

 

After submitting our names, we all waited to see whose names would be drawn to speak. When the list was finally displayed, the names of several of our EcoFaith leaders were there, including the names of this little one. His name was in the second half of the list of 60 or more names, but he waited patiently. When his name was finally called, he and his mother approached the speakers’ table. In order to reach the microphone, he had to sit on her lap. I do not remember the exact words he spoke, but I am pretty sure it was just two sentences. He stated his name and said he did not want the permit to be granted because he wanted healthy air and a safe neighborhood in which to live. Through his own brief words, it was clear that he completely understood the nature of the arguments being made. And he was clear where he stood on the matter.

 

I have spoken at public microphones before in order to share my story and give public testimony. One time I was nervous enough that my heart started skipping beats. This child’s witness is a constant reminder to me that organizing our stories and sharing them in public does not have to be that difficult. There is tremendous power that comes with simply sharing who we are, what we want, and the vision we have for our lives and for the future.

 

Practice # 2d Develop Relationships (and getting more done in the world than we ever thought possible) (September 23, 2017)

 

Public Sphere: We develop relationships of accountability between diverse human communities and public leaders, for the sake of restoring public commitment to the common good and the community of creation.

 

In the Portland area, some faith community leaders are seeking ways to work together to support a Portland ballot initiative that will be called the Just Energy Transition initiative. If passed, this initiative will enable Portland to become a national model for taking proactive steps to fight climate change while providing new economic opportunities for low income neighborhoods and communities of color.

 

I am particularly excited to be organizing with other people from EcoFaith Recovery in support of this ballot initiative because it brings together concerns for curbing climate change while promoting justice for those whose economic situation or skin color excludes them from many opportunities and puts them at additional risk. I also realize that in order to help move “the world as it is” towards “the world as we believe God wants it to be,”our personal support is not enough. We need relationships of accountability between communities of faith and other organizations, and we need leaders from those communities developing relationships with public leaders who can support these efforts (or who might organize against us, if we are not careful).

 

Most of us were not trained in how to do this. We were not encouraged to believe that we could leverage this kind of power with others and organize our congregations and other institutions to make this kind of broad impact on the common good. I am grateful that I have known many pastors and lay people who have organized their faith communities to make this kind of difference in the world. In the process they have revealed to me that our faith not only makes this possible for us but calls us to do so.

Practice # 1d Accessing Spiritual Power (September 22, 2017)

 

Public Dimension: We acknowledge our collective failures in acting for justice, and instead access the power of the indwelling God of love, who works through public efforts to advance human and environmental justice.

 

I was grateful to get to take a boat tour of the San Francisco Bay today while spending a few days with family here. As this final week of the month leads my daily reflections into the “public dimension” of life, I am reminded that the signs of public decision-making are all around us all the time. Public decisions are behind regulations about how many people are allowed on that boat, the placement and condition of life jackets, boating regulations, seismic conditions of buildings all over Northern California, the way bridges are built, etc.

 

The audio headsets on our Bay tour also relayed the heartbreaking story of other public decisions that were made in the past as we rounded Angel Island. Sometimes called “the Ellis Island of the West,” many people who sought to immigrate to the United States from places in the Pacific came through Angel island first. Unfortunately, many of these people were interred on the island, sometimes for very long periods of time, before they were allowed to enter the United States or were sent back to their home country.

 

Following the boat ride, some of us began to talk about the collective failure of our country in acting for justice where the lives of those immigrants were concerned. Janet was angry. She felt that the narration talked about that event as if it was a shameful thing that happened in the past but which is now over. She stated her concern that the same thing is happening today. I was among those who felt it would be complicated to offer political commentary on a tourist boat. But her point is well taken. Unless we can acknowledge our collective failures in acting for justice (or the ways we have been complicit in injustice), it is incredibly difficult to access the power of the indwelling God of love. And it will be difficult to engage in public efforts to advance human and environmental justice unless we can first engage in this act of historical and present day repentance.

 

Over dinner, my friend, Katie, and my cousin’s husband engaged in a deeper level of story-telling with each other. He had spent some time growing up in Watsonville, California and had direct experience with farm worker conditions there in the 1980’s. Katie talked about the ways in which Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers began a campaign which sought to educate consumers about the impact their buying choices were having in the lives of the people who worked the land and grew their food. Educating consumers to take action through boycotts of certain produce changed so much. Katie had recently seen people standing outside the grocery store where she shops. They were seeking to educate and organize consumers to support better health for the land and better working conditions for the farm workers. She reminded us that this was all possible because of the organizing work that was done in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. Chavez and the United Farm Workers dared to access the power of the indwelling God of love, and I believe that God was at work through their public efforts to advance human and environmental justice. I also believe Janet was right to essentially be asking, “So… what are we doing about the unjust and cruel treatment of immigrants as well as other issues of injustice today?”

Practice # 7c Restoring Balance… the invitation to laugh (September 21, 2017)

Community Dimension: We incorporate Sabbath practices into the culture of our communities, honoring the limits of both human and earth’s capacity, and our need for restoration.

My spouse, Janet, and I were blessed to spend some delightful Sabbath time with our nine year old niece and six year old nephew today. We called my Dad on webcam. My niece began making funny faces at my dad on camera and he could not help himself. He simply had to reciprocate. The faces they each made were hilarious. We laughed long and hard. Later, as we were finishing dinner, the kids began telling us jokes. We laughed again. Then they challenged us with one tongue twister after another and another. They watched and listened as our tongues stumbled over the back to back consonants. And we laughed some more. After quite a while, the kids got up from the table and headed off to get ready for bed. Janet commented on how much fun it was to joke and laugh with them. Although she was not aware that The Practice for Awakening Leadership on the docket for today was incorporating Sabbath practices into the culture of our communities, she nevertheless wondered aloud why we lose that sense of playfulness as we move further into adulthood and what it might mean to reclaim. My sister-in-law, who is a consultant in high tech, wondered aloud what it would be like to begin each business meeting with everybody trying to say a tongue twister. I imagined everybody laughing as the CEO spoke faster and faster, butchering the words. Janet imagined meetings beginning with everybody sitting around the table seeing what kind of funny faces they could make at one another. That caused me to imagine a ministry meeting beginning by seeing who could roll their tongue this way or that way or who knew how to raise a single eyebrow, just as we had been doing with the kids.

Now that the kids were gone from the table we had quit making funny faces and practicing tongue twisters. But the laughter continued as we sought to imagine what our meetings in churches, businesses and other community organizations would be like if we dared to introduce such hilarious, delightful, restorative Sabbath practices, like the ones children can’t help but elicit from us. Yes… what if?  

.

Practice # 6c Reflect on our Actions (September 20, 2017)

 

Community Dimension: We create a culture of reflection and evaluation within our communities, regularly assessing power dynamics, and learning from our gatherings and actions, in order to mature as leaders and communities.

 

Where it concerns reflecting on our actions, I often tell the story of an exchange that took place between Matt Smith of Salt and Light Lutheran Church and Peter Nilsen-Goodin of the Wilderness Way Community. I was walking behind them as we returned from the People’s Climate March in Portland. This was the solidarity march to the main event taking place in New York City that day. It had been a very long day for all of us. Each of us had worshiped on Sunday morning before gathering with 135 people from congregations of many denominations from across the Portland EcoFaith Community to ground ourselves in the Practices for Awakening Leadership. Then we moved out to join the hundreds more people who we were helping turn out to a march and rally of thousands. Most of us had been going from one thing to the next for about eight hours. We had scheduled a reflection and evaluation to take place back at the church where we had first gathered, but the march had extended further into the day than we anticipated. With many people hungry and exhausted, those of us who walked back to the church together numbered about a dozen. Others had hoped to join our time of reflection and evaluation but found they just could not walk the quarter mile back to the church.  We certainly understood.

 

As we approached the church and were about to enter, I was walking right behind Peter and Matt. I saw Peter put his arm on Matt’s shoulder and say, “Hey, Matt, thanks a lot for coming back for reflection and evaluation.” Matt quickly replied, “Yes, of course. If I do not stay for the evaluation then it was just doing something without learning anything. If I go home before we evaluate, I don’t grow as a leader.” This exchange spoke volumes about the culture of which Matt is a part. It was a tribute to the culture of reflection and evaluation that is integrated into the DNA of Matt’s congregation, Salt and Light Lutheran Church (part of Leaven Community). So today, I have been contemplating Matt’s words. Does the culture of the communities I am part of promote the growth and development of leaders? Or are we just doing something without learning anything?

Practice # 5c Act Together... by moving upstream (September 19, 2017)

 

Community Dimension: We nurture relational cultures, identifying common interests and public issues affecting our communities, so that we are ready to act together to promote justice and healing for the whole community of creation.

 

From childhood through adulthood, the faith communities I have belonged to over the course of my life have been good at certain kinds of “acting together.” We are good at worship which is certainly a kind of public action. We are great at potlucks. Jello salads and hot dishes used to be some of the favorite offerings when I was growing up, but with well over a hundred people having participated in Simply in Season small groups within my current faith community, salads with locally grown vegetables are now much more common. We are also great at collecting socks, coats, care kits, blankets, discretionary funds, and food for those in need. We collected over 10,000 pounds of food during one Lenten food drive!

 

But until now, we have not been very good at the kind of public action that changes the conditions that are creating more and more people who need socks, coats, care kits, blankets, discretionary funds, and food. But the congregation I serve has recently been inspired by an old story variously told as “Bodies in the River” or “Babies in the River.” It was brought to us at a “Waters of Justice” retreat by Pastor Terry Moe, and it raises the question as to how communities seeking to follow God’s call to healing, justice and peace in our world feel led to address symptoms of injustice, cruelty and violence. It invites us to imagine what our community would do if we saw bodies or even babies floating down the river through our community? Would we simply pull them out or would we begin to ask who or what was throwing them into the river upstream? The latter of these two approaches is typically more risky than the former.

 

A seminary professor once invited my class of would-be-pastors to consider that the challenges Jesus sought to address and the way he sought to address them got him killed. The same was true of Jesus’ earliest disciples. So this professor challenged us to consider whether our own proclamation of the Gospel was simply “nice” or whether it agitated “the world as it is” to become more like the “world God says it should be.” He implied that if we were faithfully engaged in the latter, that would, at times, put us at some kind of real risk. I confess that the charity I participate in does not usually put me and my community at much risk. I am not likely to have to go to jail or put my life in jeopardy when I engage in such actions. Like me, the religious leaders whose actions Jesus criticized likewise engaged in charity. Participating in such works of charity leaves the systems in place that exists to privilege white skinned, middle class people like me over many others whose skin color, class, national origin, or gender identity puts them at so much greater risk every day. It would appear that I get to alleviate my guilt by serving others. In the process I leave the system in place that benefits me (to some extent) and benefits the most powerful and privileged (to a large extent).

 

Still… there is something so compelling about that call to follow God in the world. It is so compelling that more and more people in my congregation are feeling led to consider a kind of engagement with the issues of our time that might indeed put us at greater risk. Perhaps we are moving towards it because it offers us the opportunity to make a lasting difference in the world. Perhaps we are moving toward it because it seems capable of enabling us to live into the promises of God more fully now.

 

Good stories are worth repeating again and again. So in case you want to share it wish others, here is that story of “Babies in the River,” that has invited many of us to reconsider how we are called to act together today. (Thank you to the Unitarian Universalist Association for sharing this particular version of the story):

 

Once upon a time, there was a small village on the edge of a river. Life in the village was busy. There were people growing food and people teaching the children to make blankets and people making meals.

One day a villager took a break from harvesting food and noticed a baby floating down the river toward the village. She couldn't believe her eyes! She heard crying in the distance and looked downstream to see that two babies had already floated by the village. She looked around at the other villagers working nearby. "Does anyone else see that baby?" she asked.

One villager heard the woman, but continued working. "Yes!" yelled a man who had been making soup.

"Oh, this is terrible!" A woman who had been building a campfire shouted, "Look, there are even more upstream!" Indeed, there were three more babies coming around the bend.

"How long have these babies been floating by?" asked another villager. No one knew for sure, but some people thought they might have seen something in the river earlier. They were busy at the time and did not have time to investigate.

They quickly organized themselves to rescue the babies. Watchtowers were built on both sides of the shore and swimmers were coordinated to maintain shifts of rescue teams that maintained 24-hour surveillance of the river. Ziplines with baskets attached were stretched across the river to get even more babies to safety quickly.

The number of babies floating down the river only seemed to increase. The villagers built orphanages and they taught even more children to make blankets and they increased the amount of food they grew to keep the babies housed, warm and fed. Life in the village carried on.

Then one day at a meeting of the Village Council, a villager asked, "But where are all these babies coming from?"

"No one knows," said another villager. "But I say we organize a team to go upstream and find how who's throwing these babies in the river."

Not everyone was in agreement. "But we need people to help us pull the babies out of the river," said one villager. "That's right!" said another villager. "And who will be here to cook for them and look after them if a bunch of people go upstream?"

The Council chose to let the village decide. If you were a villager, what would your vote be? Do you send a team upstream?

Practice # 4c Mentor One Another (September 18, 2017)

 

Community Dimension: We seek to develop mentoring relationships and a culture of mutual-mentoring within all of our communities.

 

At our first monthly “Getting Ready” gathering in a ten month process of preparing to attend our denomination’s National Youth Gathering in Houston, the 15 high schoolers present last night agreed that they wanted to have an overnight retreat in January. Six of the youth quickly volunteered to serve on the planning team. I turned to the parents and asked if one or two of them wanted to serve on the team, as well. The parents quickly responded, “Let’s just let them start organizing it and ask us for whatever support they might need.” I was impressed. The parents knew this was a solid group of teenagers, and they trusted them to lead a process and ask for what they need.

 

At the end of our gathering that evening, one of the parents and and I began to talk about how we might help organize the eight additional teaching sessions. I had been hoping that one or two of the high schoolers might volunteer to serve on the teaching team with our adults. I was shocked when eight of them volunteered. The parent with whom I was now speaking is a professional educator. She said, “Well, we can let them go for it and have them ask us for whatever support they need or we can do some initial work with them about how to teach/lead sessions in ways that are likely to be the most effective. I quickly jumped on the latter proposal as something that would support our youth-teachers in learning to teach and help our youth-learners learn. She and I laughed about our past experiences of asking high schoolers to teach classes. We remembered how uneven the experience can be and how little the learners learn when the student-teachers do not yet know how to teach. We knew that setting kids up for an experience that is so far beyond their current capabilities does not usually help them learn or grow very effectively.

 

Within the youth ministries I am helping lead (while we wait for our congregation to call a full time youth minister), I am grateful to see that there is a culture of mentoring among the parents and youth. Parents are seeking to discern the readiness of our young people to take on various leadership roles with appropriate levels of support. Youth are learning to ask for what they need and trust that some kind of support be available. When a project seems well within their capabilities, the adults set them loose and encourage them to ask for the support they need. When the need extends beyond their current capabilities, the parents and staff seek to offer a scaffolding of support that will help them risk, grow, and mature. The kids are thriving within a culture of mentoring which is caring, trusting, supportive, and assertive.

 

It causes me to wonder how our congregations and other institutions would function if we assumed that in every stage of life and in every work in which we engage, we need to have a similar level of consciousness and intentionality about how we mentor one another.

Practice # 3c Discovering our Stories (September 17, 2017)

 

Community Dimension: We discover common interests and the public dimensions of our stories through organized, focused listening seasons within and between our communities. 

 

We are not there yet. Although some of us have attended trainings where we have learned how to conduct a congregation-wide listening season, we have not gotten involved enough in community organizing so as to engage and sustain a powerful practice like this one.

 

Within the congregation I serve, our church council has established a “justice discernment team” to help our congregation move from a primarily service oriented way of engaging in ministry to one in which we become willing to look at the larger realities, root causes, even the systemic issues that continue to perpetuate injustice. We are not at the point of doing organized, focused listening seasons, but we are beginning to dream about what that could look like among us in the future. We are beginning to imagine the stories we might hear, the leadership we could cultivate, the issues we could identify, and the actions we could plan and carry out with other communities.

 

We are not there yet. Is that because we have not learned how to hear the public dimensions of our stories? Is it because we do not trust that we have the capacity to organize our stories? Is it because we fail to believe that our stories can and do make a difference when they are organized? We are not there yet. But they say that asking the right questions is far more important than getting the right answer. If that is true, I imagine we may well be on the right track.

Practice #0 Falling Off the Wagon (and getting back on again) (September 15, 2017)

So… there actually is no “Practice #0” in The Practices for Awakening Leadership. There is no “Step 0” in the 12 Steps of any recovery group of which I am aware. But today, how else does one begin a reflection about what happens when I “fall off the wagon” because there is no Practice which relates to this? So, today I am claiming a “Practice 0” to reflect upon what I have learned from the friends and fellow congregation members who are member of Alcoholics Anonymous and who have taught me that “relapse is part of recovery.”

One man I used to know who was in recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous once told me and six others, “It is never too late to start your week over again…. It is never too late to start your day over again.” He then proceeded to tell us about the previous day and everything that had gone wrong in his life. This was,to some extent, a result of unfortunate circumstances. But he was courageous enough to admit that in large part, this was also a result of poor choices on his part. He was ready to give up on the day, put himself to bed, and try over again the next day. But then he remembered something his sponsor in recovery had once told him: It is never too late to start your day over again. It was already after 7:00 p.m., but he prayed the serenity prayer, turned his will and his life back over to God and focused upon doing the “next right thing.” I do not remember this courageous man’s name, but I often remember his wise counsel.

So here it is Friday already. Most of the week is done. But I am following my wise elder’s model, offering the serenity prayer, and starting my week over again. I am remembering the many people recovering from addictions who have taught me that “relapse is part of recovery.” They do not say that with judgement. They do not say it with excitement. They simply state it as fact. Relapse was part of my recovery this week. Interestingly enough, I have been noticing that my fall out of these spiritual recovery Practices happened on a Sabbath Day. I was exhausted and forgot that sabbath is not merely about rest. It is not only about stopping. Rev. Dave Brauer-Rieke taught me that it is about “resting or stopping with intention.” I lost the “intention” part. And it is amazing to me how quickly the dominant cultural practices seduced me back into a less intentional, less conscious, more reactive way of living my life. My spirit had been bolstered through these Practices, but in their absence, I noticed the news of the day overwhelming me and pulling me far off center again. Fortunately I was able to maintain my daily personal spiritual practices. They sustain me as a child of God, a beloved earth creature. But I lost conscious connection to the rhythm and flow of these leadership development practices, and they are the practice that have been sustaining me in living out my unique God-given vocation in relationship with others. I am not beating myself up at all. I am just noticing how powerful and seductive the dominant voices and cultural practices are in this world and in my life.

And so with deep, deep thanksgiving to the many dozen people who have participated in the development of these Practices for Awakening Leadership over these past several years, I am remembering that relapse is and will continue to be part of my recovery. I am remembering that I am not alone. I live and move and have my being within the life of an indwelling God and in relationship with all of you. And so I pray:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Practice #3b Discover our Stories (September 10, 2017)

Interpersonal Dimension: We discover the transformative power of our stories by sharing our stories with others, and inviting others to share their stories with us, paying special attention to peoples and creatures whose stories have been silenced.

“You might consider subscribing to our newspaper,” they told me. As I sought to pay attention to the peoples whose stories have been silenced, I wanted to know more about the Native Americans of this land where I live. I have come to understand that it is important to acknowledge whose land I am on. I have been seeking to learn how to do that.

This land where I live was taken from the Kalapuya people. Smallpox actually killed many of them after first contact with people who came from far away places. The descendents of those who remained are now part of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde whose reservation is on Kalapuya land. As I began to get to know some of the leaders of these confederated tribes, I wanted to be respectful and honor their advice as to how I could get to know them better. Afterall, there are only 5200 of them. I know their leaders have sometimes gotten so engaged in meeting requests for external speaking requests that they have struggled to keep up with the needs of their own people. So I wanted to let them instruct me on the manner and pacing of any ways I could come to know them better individually and as a community. I was grateful to receive from them invitations to three tribal events and to be invited to take their language class if I ever desired. But I never would have imagined how much I would learn by accepting their invitation to simply subscribe to their community newspaper and commit to the practice of reading it on the day it arrives at my home.

Through this simple practice, I am coming to understand more about the history and celebrations that are meaningful to the people of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. Through letters to the editor and articles about Tribal Council debates, I am becoming more informed about the issues with which they struggle. So long as I live in Oregon, I hope to continue to get to gradually get to know better the people of the tribe whose ancestral land I live on. I will certainly seek out any opportunity available to me for one-to-one conversations that enable me to discover the transformative power of any individual’s story, especially those whose stories have been marginalized or silenced, and especially the stories and wisdom of the first peoples of this land. It is also true that I am learning more about the context in which some of those stories reside by accepting the invitation from two leaders to simply subscribe to their newspaper and read it.

Practice #2b Develop Relationships (September 9, 2017)

Interpersonal Dimension: We develop relationships with other peoples, lands, and creatures, discovering our respective interests, and seeking to see the world from other points of view.

 

I have been converted to the “one-to-one meeting.” Community organizers say that everything they and their organizations do is dependent upon the quality and quantity of the one-to-one conversations taking place within their organizations. I am a believer.

 

I grew up in a family of social people who knew how to make conversation. That has never been a problem. But seeing that there is spiritual power running through our relationships and that God can and does use the power of our relational connections and our relational power to make a difference has been a revolution in my life. I learned that there is something of deep value and consequence in each person’s story and that there are places where a synergy is discovered at one or more intersections of our stories. When that happens I start to become curious about how the development of this relationship and our capacity to connect one another with others may be a way that God is at work trying to bring about greater compassion and justice in the world. And I become curious as to how I can best develop this relationship for the sake of the relationship itself and for the sake of whatever this God of life and love is up to in the world. Each conversation then becomes a delightful exploration of what God may be up to if I am awake to the power available in my relationships and am willing to steward that power with God for the well-being of the common good throughout my community and the community of creation, as a whole.

Practice #1b Access Spiritual Power (September 8, 2017)

Interpersonal Dimension: We acknowledge the ways we isolate ourselves and objectify others, and instead access the power of love by awakening to God’s indwelling presence in the people and other members of God’s creation we encounter.

 

When I am gathered with other people of faith to engage in our ministry together, nobody would dispute that God is present. Nobody would argue that God is available to us. But it is one thing to know that. It is another thing to stop and allow the spiritual power of that indwelling God to have deeper access to us. I believe it enables us to be more available to that power and less unconsciously in collusion with the powers that work against God’s life-generating, love-giving power.

 

There are many times when ministry meetings in which I participate do not start or end with prayer. But in my experience, some shared way of “accessing spiritual power” makes a difference, regardless of whether we do that silently, with words or with our whole bodies. Taking time at the beginning, middle and/or end of any gathering to remember who we are together and the nature of that God in whose presence we gather makes a difference in everything that happens thereafter: how I function, how I experience others, and the work that results.

 

So yesterday I dared to ask for this when a meeting I was part of did not begin with some way of consciously accessing spiritual power together. It had not even occurred to me in advance that I might make such a request. (When somebody else is running a meeting and does not begin with some intentional way of accessing God’s indwelling power, I usually do not want to interrupt them.) But this time, I surprised myself. I waited for a pause and then gently inserted, in as nice of a way as I could, “Do you think it would be okay if we joined together in prayer?” The chair seemed to have had a very harried day. She looked up from her page, looked over at me with a grin, took a deep breath and said, “Yes, of course.” I then held a brief silence with the group so we could all arrive together. Then I prayed aloud that our actions would be guided by the indwelling power of God. The next meeting I attended that evening opened with a lovely devotional, but there were some issues on our agenda about which we did not come to a clear conclusion by the end of our time together. The meeting appeared to be over. People were already packing up materials and pushing chairs back from the table. Again, without advanced thought of more than five or ten seconds I said, “Would it be okay if we prayed together before we left?” I think others appreciated it. But I asked because I felt the need arising in me.  

 

I truly believe the power that seeded these requests was closer to the surface of my consciousness because I have been engaging in one leadership development Practice each day with you through this listserve. After only a week, I am finding that this Practice is raising up more creativity and availability in me to a more conscious and intentional expression of God’s love. I would like to think that I already know what God wants, but the power of God is so much greater than I am. Especially when engaging in ministry that we hope is aligned with God’s will for the world, I think it makes a difference to ask that our thoughts, hearts and actions become aligned, not only with what we think God wants, but with whatever God may truly want.  Consciously accessing spiritual power with others simultaneously humbles me and grounds me in that deeper power. And it makes me want to do it more!

Practice #7a Restore Balance (September 7, 2017)

We restore our bodies and spirits, practicing Sabbath and regaining a balance of work and rest, as modeled in Scripture and creation.

 

One of the gifts and challenges of committing to a 28 day calendar of daily leadership development practices and following it based upon the date of the month (rather than the day of the week) is that each of the seven Practices can hit on any day of the week. That means that the personal dimension of the seventh practice, “Restoring Balance,” which is the Sabbath practice, can land on any day of the week in a given month. What?! Must I really consider how Sabbath practice is structured into every day, not merely the days I designate as “my Sabbath?” And this is somehow essential to my development as a spiritually grounded leader?

 

Thursdays are a very full day of ministry-work for me, and today was no different. Yet it does make sense that if I am serious about Sabbath that it should be structured into the rhythm of every day of my life in some way. Still I struggled to see how “Restoring Balance” might apply deeply to some aspect of this particular day. So I entered into our congregation’s Executive Board meeting tonight fretting that I would have nothing to offer in the daily reflection I hoped to write when the meeting was over. To my surprise, by the end of the meeting, Suzanne, who is one of our treasurers, shared that she highly recommended a one page article in this month’s Living Lutheran called, Sabbath Nourishment by an Episcopal priest named, Nadia Stefco.  She encouraged all of us to read it. I had to tense my jaw to keep it from dropping. Are you serious? After all of my wondering about how today might have something to do with the Sabbath call to “Restore Balance,” my daily reflection would simply be handed to me in the final hour? Yet one more gift in a life that, in and of itself, is already a gift.

 

She was right. The article was a young priest’s reflections about what she learned about Sabbath while she and the youth of her congregation worked alongside the leaders and youth entrepreneurs of the Lakota Youth Development Project. It is indeed worth reading. I was particularly struck by the following: “What I need to recognize is that Sabbath is about reconciliation—the restoration of a right relationship among God’s diverse people, and between humans and our fellow members of creation. Sabbath is about taking regular time and space to consider whose rules we are playing by when it comes to our place in the economy of God’s creation—God’s or ours?” As I reflect upon the ministry I was engaged in that morning with fellow religious leaders connected with Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good and early in the evening with congregational leaders who are part of our Justice Discernment team, I realize that I actually have been engaged in “restoring balance” all day long.

 

+ + +

Practice #6a Reflect on our Actions (September 6, 2017)

Peronal Dimension: We evaluate our actions and the ways we use or experience power, integrating what each experience has to teach us, by regularly reflecting, praying, and/or spending time in conscious relationship with the natural world.

One of the values of engaging in a daily practice for me is that it not only deepens the spiritual/relational work that I am already committed to. It also holds out a vision of what I might be missing and what more might be possible.

 

I have people in my life who inspire me to realize that direct engagement with the natural world changes me. Doesn’t it do that for you? Certainly the buildings we build are also part of God’s creation. We imagine these spaces, draw them, and then build them. They are an extension of our own createdness. But there is something so grounding about being immersed in the wonder, complexity, and unpredictability of God’s creation. It slows me down and facilitates a much deeper quality of presence in me.

 

Reflecting on this practice today reminds me that I have not been giving myself enough opportunity to receive this gift and to allow something bigger than myself to change me. I have not allowed myself enough time to directly encounter the indwelling God who is present in all of it. Reading this practice and reflecting upon my life in light of it reminds me of something of which I had lost track: there is a yearning down deep in my body and soul that longs to reconnect with the wonder of being alive and everything else that is likewise alive or which has been created through the presence of an indwelling God over millions of years. I have not been feeling that yearning all week. Perhaps that is a result of not wanting to feel my feelings about the presence of the ash that covered everything yesterday. How does one take in the heartbreak that it is the charred remains of beautiful trees from the Columbia River Gorge that are now covering my car? Still when I slow down and reflect, I realize that the yearing is still there. And spending time reflecting on this practice makes me want to cultivate more direct engagement with the natural world and make that practice more fully a part of my daily way of life.

 

+ + +

Practice #5a Act Together (September 5, 2017)

Personal Dimension: We discern our unique call to participate with others in organized actions for the sake of mending the brokenness in our communities and restoring our connection to the places we live.

I talk to many people who are overwhelmed these day. Truth be told, I am, too. I am particularly overwhelmed when I lose sight of the sense that God not only loves me but has uniquely called me to partner with God in mending the brokenness in our human communities and participating in the restoration of the earth community. That happens often when I feel that so many of my deepest values are under assault on a daily basis. A second devastating hurricane is forming out in the ocean and wildfires are burning across my state leaving ashes covering my car. Still people dispute the human contributions to a destabilizing climate while advocating for the expansion of more pipelines and the reduction of coal plant regulation. White supremacy is undergoing a revival and receiving legitimacy from the highest levels of government while so many of those who know no other home than America, but who happen not to have been born here, are threatened with deportation.

There would not be enough hours in the day for the number of petitions I am being asked to sign, marches in which I am being invited to walk, or meetings through which I am being invited to organize. More than one person has asked me “How do I know what to show up for?” I often have the same question. I know I am called to show up for many things these days. But I will burn out if I show up for everything.

The personal dimension of Practice #5 reminds me that I have a unique call to act with others. And if I do not show up to offer my part, then something is missing. My “unique call” within the communities of which I am a part is my first filter. I need to prioritize these things.  Still, there are more things that fit into my call than I have time and energy to engage. So these days I think a lot about the time when Jesus told his followers to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” This reminds me to be as strategic and creative as possible about how I use my time and other resources. When Jesus goes onto say, “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you,” he reminds me that sometimes I will not know in advance. I need to pray, listen and trust that I am not in this alone. I can honestly say that when I remember that I am called, seek to discern my participation in various efforts in light of that call, and listen deeply for guidance in the moment, I am generally able to stay engaged without becoming too overwhelmed. I connect into a deeper Source of energy than my own. I quit needing to figure it all out. I show up with who I am, trust that I will be given the words, and often feel that I am making one significant contribution among many.

Still, in doing this, I also have had to learn to tolerate offering my contribution without, in many cases, seeing things “getting better.” At least not in the short run. So I give it my very best and then try to remember that the indwelling God who has been at work creating the universe for 13.8 billion years and expanding the complexity and flourishing of life within the earth community for the past 3.5 billion years is still at work among us today. I do not mean to be Pollyanna in the way I think or talk about this. These are not easy times and I cry often over significant losses. I think God does, too. But I am also seeking to let God develop in me a kind of spiritual resilience capable of staying engaged for the long haul while finding hope and joy rising up even out of the heartbreak and the ashes.

+ + +

Practice #4 Mentor One Another (September 4, 2017)

 

The personal dimension of Practice #4: “Mentor One Another” invites us to recognize the deeply relational nature of the universe, and acknowledge our need for mentors from the whole community of creation for the sake of our own development as leaders. For the past few days, I have been thinking about the large, old, beautiful Douglas Fir tree that sits right outside the large wall of windows on the left side of our church sanctuary. I would like to think that I am an engaging preacher, but on the days when more than one set of eyes drifts to my right, I know that the big Douglas Fir tree is presently more compelling than I am. With the forest and wetlands beyond it, that old tree has adorned the left wall of our sanctuary more majestically than any costly piece of art might have done. I remember a few years back when the bishop came to lead a regional “Reconciling in Christ” worship service at our church. He is the leader of our whole Lutheran church throughout Oregon, a rather important man to us. And yet it was so interesting to see how tiny and almost insignificant he appeared to me as he stood in front of the window just in front of that enormous tree.

Our church property committee just informed us that this tree is dying and will need to be taken out. I gasped when I read the email. My heart sank. The majority of those serving on the property committee are retired men. They are most certainly devoted to their church, but they do not often get emotional. This time feels different. We are all sad about the loss of this tree.  

One member of the property committee sent a follow up email a day or two later indicating that he had woken up that morning thinking about the “specimen fir” (as the property crew calls it) and the question, “Why did it die?” He reflected in great detail on the large building project that the church took on in 2011. The rebuilding had been designed to leave this beautiful tree in its central place with walls and windows strategically placed in the education wing to similarly take in the view of it. His email offered several observations in response to that question before he finally concluded that the biggest detriment to the tree was likely the reduction of water supply caused by the impervious surfaces that were either repaved or added to the property at that time of the rebuilding project. He offered this information to help the property committee make the best choices before planting the next generation of trees in its place and to help us consider how we could provide more space for water to sink into the soil around our property. But the question, “Why did it die?” asked upon waking early in the morning was also recognizable as one of the central marks of grief. It was also the first question I silently asked after reading the email announcing that the tree was dying. This majestic, old tree does not speak our language. But her silent witness has inspired generations of people who have come to this place. We will continue to learn from her as we prepare for a ritual in which we will say thank you and goodbye. And we will continue to learn from her when we gather again to plant her descendants.

I have had grandparents and other elders who have mentored me, not only by the way they have lived, but also by the way they died. And now, even as I and others wonder in our grief if we could have made different choices and if those choices might have made a difference, this beautiful old tree is likewise mentoring us as she dies.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you;  ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;  and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” Job 12:7-9

+ + +

Practice #3a, Discover Our Stories (September 3, 2017)

Personal dimension: “We discover the power of our own stories and the ways our stories have been shaped by the land as well as our cultures, economies, religious traditions, political systems, and personal and collective histories.”

 

How did I miss this? You would think that somebody in the high school or college or church community I grew up in would have told me about the power of my story. I learned about the power of education. I certainly learned about the power of money. I do not remember ever learning that my story has power. I suppose it should have been self-evident. Advertisers use the power of an individual’s story to convince us to buy a particular soft drink or laundry detergent. They make millions of dollars off of it. A politician invites a particular person to sit in the audience at a campaign event where the politician then tells that person’s story. They win thousands of votes through use of that story. I wish that the public schools or church I attended would have told me how unbelievably powerful my story could be and how I could discover and take responsibility for the use of my story rather than allowing others to use it for their own purposes.

Certainly my church did cultivate in me a deep sense that I am loved by God and that nothing can ever separate me from God. But it was people of faith engaged in Industrial Areas Foundation organizing (such as Terry Moe, Dick Harmon, Nancy Phelps, Solveig Nilsen-Goodin, and Mary Nemmers) who helped me understand how deeply my story matters to God and how passionately the Spirit wants to be revealed through my story to bring about greater compassion and justice in the world. They invited me to leave the well-paved road of letting others define and use my story for their own purposes and step off onto the less traveled trails of discovering the power of my story. I discovered that those pathways were the means by which God could have greater access to my story in service of greater compassion, justice, and flourishing of diverse life in the world.

And so I have been on a many-year journey to discover more about the ancestral, cultural, economic, political, evolutionary, and other forces that have shaped my story. In these days when I can often feel so overwhelmed by the destructive powers of injustice and violence at work in the world and in my own life, it is so nice to also feel God’s life-giving, justice-making power rising through me.

Practice #2: Develop Relationships (September 2, 2017)

Personal dimension: We develop a compassionate relationship with our powerful yet limited selves as beloved by the indwelling God, and deeply connected to all other powerful yet limited beings.

 

As I have pondered the personal dimensions of Practice #2 today, I have been remembering that I was introduced to the concept of “lifeways” this summer by John Grim, a lecturer and research scholar from Yale University who edited the book, Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: the Interbeing of Cosmology and Community. John was a presenter at Larry Rasmussen’s Earth Honoring Faith conference, and he talked about the central awareness in many indigenous traditions of “symbolic and material life.” For most indigenous peoples, it would be impossible to separate out ritual practices and cosmological ideas from the activities and practices of daily life. Where did we ever get this crazy idea that religious beliefs and ritual practices can be separated from the practice of the rest of our lives. When I have been exposed to indigenous wisdom, it suddenly no longer makes sense to me that I would simply “go to church” or “stop to pray” or “do daily devotions.” Doesn’t a conscious relationship with the Source and Ground of All Being inform, infuse and even reform every dimension of our lives? How could a relationship with ultimate reality be relegated to little pockets of our lives here and there? No wonder so many people have come to reject institutionalized religion in our day and age. I get it.

 

Yet my path is not to reject the deep wells of wisdom passed on through the Christian religion I have inherited. I seek a lifeway with the power to both express what I believe and reform my beliefs in light of my practice and engagement with others. And so, since meeting John and spending time with others at the conference, I have been carrying with me this question of what is my lifeway? What are the characteristics of my daily rituals, practices and activities that are in harmony with what I am coming to believe and what our species needs in order to thrive within a diverse, global community of thriving life? And so I have been identifying, discovering and developing daily lifeway practices through which I reconnect to what I know is true. Some have been with me for a long time already. Two of the newer practices I have been incorporating into my lifeway since attending Earth Honoring Faith are: Each morning I brew my loose leaf green tea and offer prayers in the six directions. I do not appropriate the words of native peoples. Instead the words and images of this practice derive from my understanding of the story of the 13.8 billion year unfolding of our universe, my connection to the particular place where I live, and my respect for the people who lived here before me (the Kalapuya). I have also reclaimed the practice of growing alfalfa sprouts in my kitchen window. Every morning, I seek to eat at least a pinch of this miracle of life and remember that these living sprouts and everything else I will eat this day are gifts of the energy of the sun, the waters of my watershed and the grace of an indwelling God.

 

For others who might like to share on this topic of Practice #2a with the dozen or so of us who have joined this new DailyPractice@ecofaithrecovery.org  listserve thus far, I would be curious as to what lifeways you have inherited or adopted which reconnect you to what is most true and most important. If you prefer to simply “listen in” that is always just fine, too.

+ + +

Practice #1: Access Spiritual Power (September 1, 2017)

Personal Dimension: We acknowledge and name the destructive powers we experience in our lives, and seek the God of love, whose life-giving power is accessible through our embodied experience in creation.

When I put out an announcement in the EcoFaith enews a month ago inviting people who wanted to join me in daily engagement with The Practices for Awakening Leadership via email, I imagined that I would begin this efforton the first day of September. Given that EcoFaith’s Practices have now developed to the point where there are seven Practices and four dimensions (personal, interpersonal, community and public), starting on the first day of the month would enable a daily exploration of all seven practices and facilitate a movement through all four dimensions over a 28 day period of time. However, I never could have imagined the context into which I would be offering my first reflection: The temperature here in the “moderate” climate of Portland, Oregon is predicated to rise this week into the 100’s… in September! An enormous hurricane just dumped over 50 inches of rain on Texas leaving 30,000 people homeless, dozens of people dead and a flooded chemical plant blasting toxic gasses into the air. Record monsoon floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal just killed over 1200 people and affected 24 million people. Hurricanes and monsoons are not preventable. But, of course, we have known for decades that the magnitude of this devastation was preventable. But, collectively, we did not make that choice.

 

My people, meaning Americans, are good at trying to fix things. I have been working with so many of you trying to fix this for years. And yet, I watch the news and see that the number of droughts and floods and fires has grown exponentially, and I see in the news what the scientific community has been predicting for years. The implications of their conclusions are here. In the face of this, returning to the personal dimension of Practice #1 is really all I can do: “We acknowledge and name the destructive powers we experience in our lives, and seek the God of love, whose life-giving power is accessible through our embodied experience in creation.” This is the personal dimension of Practice #1 that calls me to “Consciously connect with the indwelling God to rediscover our belovedness, our God-given power, and our place within God’s evolving universe.” Although my German American, farmer ancestors prepared me well to work hard and seek solutions to any problems I might face, today I cannot help but open up to another kind of power, the power of lament. I am sad. In my experience, lament usually arises when I feel I have failed. Often during times of lament, I feel distant from God. I feel alone. But as I sit with this first Practice this morning, I am remembering the many experiences of my life that remind me that there is deep power in lament. I am remembering a number of times when I have been driven to my knees in deep sorrow over the acknowledgement of one death or another. I am remembering that God has never failed to meet me in my lament. I am remembering God’s lament in Isaiah 1 over the people who failed to choose the way of life and who will soon be taken away into captivity in a land far away due to global pressures in response to which they were unable or unwilling to offer a faithful response. I am remembering the Jesus who lamented over Jerusalem and who wept at a tomb that was the result of a death he did not want. And I am doing my best to trust that God really is still present in all of this, just as God was present to my spiritual ancestors who would soon be taken away to Babylon. They wept when they saw what was coming… what was already happening. I am not very good at this… but I am seeking today to open up to the spiritual power of God that might be available in lament.

+ + +

Robyn Hartwig, Pastor/Organizer, EcoFaith Recovery