Friday, July 5, 2013

Are You Big Enough for this World?

I am attending the Friends General Conference Annual Gathering, having driven half way across the country to Greeley, Colorado. We made it, and I've been splitting my time between facilitating a workshop and taking care of my son. It's been challenging, to be in a place with so much vibrance and interest, and to feel like a giant nurturing machine. My son is weaned, have done almost six months past, but this week it feels like he's right back on the breast, if figuratively, trying to handle the meals with 1200+ Friends, the late nights, the 'camp' he attends in morning and evening so my beloved and I can be part of some of the activities. Our son is lovely, brilliant, and almost 3. Enough on that. 

But there is more that I have taken on-- facilitating a workshop with the dear and talented Amy Keitzman on spiritual action, called Growing Our Capacity for Spirit Led Action. This is only for 3 hours a day, but it feels like a lot more. I had never realized that the head space of facilitation and of parenting were so similar. I am intently caring about this group of 14 folks, sitting in a circle, daily attending to their place on the journey. 

Our primary modes in the workshop are two-fold-- strategic public engagement, and engaging in the Great Turning. We have spent our time together asking ourselves about the distinction between prayer and action, and what constitutes 'activism.' The stigma on both sides of the false dichotomy between spiritual practice and activist practice is strong. Activists feel alienated from recognition of their spiritual ground, contemplatives and lifestyle radicals feel alienated and distant from those who are more traditionally engaged in campaign work. 

We chose to do this workshop to make space for that false separation to end. Joanna Macy, in her work of the Great Turning, describes a spiral of change work that reflects the sea change underway in our midst. As opposed to the industrial growth society, where the linear acquisition of power, possessions, and resources leads to a planetary and societal crisis leading to apocalypse, the Great Turning offers a new paradigm for understanding this historical moment. Instead of seeing direct action as rearranging deck chairs on the climate change Titanic, or alternative structures as ill-gotten gains from the margins, not effecting anything in the face of the Dominant System, the Great Turning tells us that all of these things are needed for the task of seeing with new eyes. 

And what are we supposed to see, exactly? Where the power-over paradigm sees human and ecological action in atomistic isolation, the power-with paradigm of the Great Turning sees all of these actions, organizations, movements, prayers, and ecological systems as connected. Big or small, the life-giving truth of our interconnection can change our view of this moment in time, and give us energy for committing to this work for the long term

But this new way of seeing is not something we can know in our minds, only. As Friends gathered, we are in a good position to know that we need to know this with our bodies, as well as our minds. An embodied faith makes it possible for us to know the truth of our experience. The activities we planned-- including participating in a youth-led action with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers-- have made space for people to engage the different places they might feel led to act, or worship, or minister. 

The truth of our work together, for me, is a lived panentheism-- a recognition of the God(ess) in the work of liberation for all beings, human and non-human. The nested systems of our selves, our communities, our alternative organizations, modeling and building the kin-dom together, is where my theology lives. The gift of this time with Friends is to reflect and experience together the inward activism and outward prayer of lived faith. And I am grateful for it. 

And so the answer to the question, of course, is that yes, you are big enough for the world, because you are a part of the world, and the world is a part of you. And God(ess) is in all. Welcome to the Great Turning, may we travel this spiral in peace and love.

** Update 7/11/13 **
 A Friend and friend asked me to outline the effects of this long-term campaign on the lived realities of farm workers in Florida. Having been a participant in CIW action on and off since 2002, I trust this movement and its information, so I direct folks to the FAQ page of the Fair Food Program, the implementation and oversight program for the gains made by the work of CIW.  From the CIW website, this work has taken a decade to come together, with its first signer in 2005-- Taco Bell, and the organization of oversight and implementation began in the 2011-2012 growing season.

I will also write that my understanding is that this agreement for increased compensation for harvest and a code of conduct for the farm workplace is based on pressure at the local level-- or at least this is the context in which I have participated. The momentum needed to effectively pressure an industry requires longterm and strategic engagement. And I will also write that these gains are hard won and important-- but they are not the only gains that are effected by a long-term campaign like this. Organizing based on the stories of workers, bringing the story of these workers reality to the front of folks' consciousness is a battle for story that I think CIW is winning. I also think that the process of empowerment and self-determination that happens with long term committed work can have long reaching effects that are yet to be seen.

The action that young people at the Gathering organized was beautiful, and at the end of it, before we returned to the grounds of the Gathering, we were gathered outside of Wendy's, watching the young people walk out of the store. As they finished telling their story of the successful conversation with the manager on site, some elder Friends started chanting-- Lead Us! Lead Us! It was a bit surreal at first, for me, but as I saw the faces of those gathered, I heard in that the cry of hope, of desperation, of love across generations. What would this chant look like, what would it be lived like, if we called it across other chasms in our relationships? I am glad to be led by young Friends, and by Florida farmworkers and their allies. 


  1. Do what you can
    Be who you are
    Want what you have.
    Welcome to refuge here- a meeting place of spirituality activism and art
    carry on girl!

  2. Grateful for your teaching and learning at 2013 FGC Gathering, Victoria and Amy. Curious that John the Baptist called people to "tshuva", turn toward the Divine, and Joanna Macy (and you) call us to the "Great Turning." May we, as a great people, turn together!

  3. Breaking through false dichotomies to wholeness...yep, that's what we be talkin' about! ~ Niyonu

    1. it's been a great gift learning with and from folks like you, Niyonu. Thanks for reading! And to let you know your three circles came in handy as we worked through conflict in our workshop. Peace on the integration journey.