Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thoughts on Sacred Activism

I've been home sick for the last day and a half. It's nothing major, just an allergy-related cold. Something is in the air that's dealing me a fit. I have not had time to get to the doctor to deal with the allergies in a responsible way, so it got the better of me. I will admit, however, that it's brought back sweet memories of last year's bout of bronchitis and the subsequent journey to urgent care where I met Angela the PA. Anyone remember her? She certainly had a way of boosting my spirits!

Well, I digress....

As reported, I spent a day and a half last week attending the Sacred Activism conference. It spurred a lot of thought for me, not the least of which is some new ideas to shape my ongoing desire to find a place to work on issues of importance to me, to work toward change in the world. I think the most important thing I took away from the conference is some new ideas for practices that will help me further identify that, as well as new motivation to make that effort.

Sacred activism is a term introduced by Andrew Harvey. At the risk of over-simplifying, the basic idea behind the term is a fusing of the mystic's love for god with the activist's passion for justice. The result of bringing the two together in individuals is a guarding against the potential for spiritual practice that is so self-centered that it becomes narcissistic and activism that is not adequately grounded in the strength of spiritual practice.

The conference brought together people from a number of faith groups and was sponsored heavily by Wisdom University. Much of my criticism of the conference centers on the way in which it was organized. There was a heavy paternalism that permeated much of the structure. The primary architects of the movement and the terms which shaped the conference's agenda come from white men associated with Wisdom University. The plenary sessions that I attended employed a lot of either/or thinking that felt manipulative at times. I acknowledge a significant sensitivity to that way of presenting, the appeal to the presenter's own authority based on experience or expertise and level of passion about the topic to motivate others to change. There was some fear employed too, and while I tend to agree with the scenarios depicted that inspired some fear, I have to work extra hard not to throw away what's being said solely because it feels manipulative to me. It's a lot of baggage I carry from years in the evangelical churches of my youth. I own that, but I do think there is an extent to which this style of presentation shuts down dialogue.

Now, having said all of that, here are some things that are sticking with me...
  • One of the presenters I heard referred to a group in our population that he calls the cultural creatives (the link is actually for a questionaire that will help you determine whether or not you are one). There was a lot of hype to what he had to say about this group, not all of which I believe, but a conversation I had with a new friend Friday afternoon helped solidify for me the importance of naming this phenomenon in our culture. This friend is the daughter of my former admin assistant. She's gay, grew up in a church that was remarkably supportive, though not entirely and her memories of church are relatively positive, but she feels a great deal of disillusionment with church in general because it feels to her like it's become irrelevant, concerned about its own identity to the point of losing touch with the real problems in the world, most of which she identified in terms that would clearly mark her a cultural creative. I threw out the term sacred activism to her and she found it very appealing. She longs for a spirituality that leads her to find her place in the world, to make a difference, and she wants to connect with others who share that passion. Her friends don't necessarily share her concerns, so she feels isolated. In our part of the country, I suspect that isolation is far more common tha nwe have any way of knowing. So, in that regard, conferences that bring people like that together seem very important, but only if they are accompanied by follow up that enables participants to remain connected and come out of their isolation. Sacred activism that is radically individualistic and which carries no sense of accountability with it will be passionate, to be certain, but I fear it will remain largely unfocused, potentially narcissistic and self-serving, even dangerous, and has a much higher potential of flaming out in a hurry. Besides, I think it misses the deep longing of people like my friend, to be in conversation with people who are like her, to know that she is not alone, and that her deep concerns are shared by others who have concerns of their own. For many, myself included, there is great potential for meaningful relationships to form around these issues and interests. That in and of itself is meeting a deep need in this world, one that needs to be met in order for the nurturing care of the world to be maintained.
  • I was struck, yet again, with how the conference drew a largely white, middle to upper middle class audience. I have a growing concern for and interest in asking the question, "How do we change this?" This is troubling to me. It is a problem with us white, middle class people, for sure. But, I don't know how we get at solving it. It's something with which I find myself constantly wrestling. Any solutions we find to the issues which are before us should be ones that call into question the dominant culture's dominance, not ones that solidify it, however benevolent and good they may be. There I said it. Now, just pray I find a way to contribute something toward changing this dynamic and not just pointing out the fault.


jo(e) said...

All kinds of meaningful stuff to think about in this post. (I looked at the cultural creative checklist -- I'm obviously one!)

Songbird said...

yep, me, too! This is very thought-provoking. An older pastor who was involved with the Civil Rights Movement felt great disappointment in a rally in DC earlier this spring because it didn't have the feeling of commitment, of "I would do anything for this cause," that he saw and felt in the '60's.