Fare well, Communities

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A CCDA Café (Christian Community Development Association meeting) took place on June 29, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia. I participated in this wonderfully diverse group of people that came together from around the city for one purpose: to work collaboratively for the well-being (shalom) of Metro Richmond. From across our variations in faith perspectives, congregations, neighborhoods, political points of view, gender, employment, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, we came together in unity for the common good of our communities.

 I was in Washington D.C. on June 16, 2011 with a group of interfaith clergy leaders that gathered from across the United States to advocate in the U.S. Congress and the White House for something that has not been done in 46 years: a complete evaluation of the entire U.S. criminal justice system that will include recommendations for improvement of this costly, vastly complex, and extensively broken system. We were and are advocating for the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011 (S.306) – NCJCA. From across our differences in geographies, faith traditions, gender, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, we came together for a unified moral purpose: to voice our support and advocacy for justice and mercy via the National Criminal Justice Reform Commission Act.  

We all have some stories to share about our various communities working and advocating for the co-creation of common good; however, especially in America today, the win-lose battles being fought in the states and at the federal level threaten to severely cripple and perhaps to destroy the common good and the good will extended to America. The congressional volleys appear more like bullying tactics than civil discourse and mutual agreement for the good of “all”. Clearly, the legion gridlocked battles are primarily the result of unilateral “power-over” politics rather than attempts to achieve policies roted in “shared power”. I believe that our nation’s Founders would be outraged at the current state of bickering, divisiveness, and power-wielding bullying that result in disunity, inequity, anger, fear and ever-deepening isolationism and classism. It is not the kind of community – not the kind of “United States” – that I believe the Founders had in mind.

 In the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution appear these words:

 We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The word “Welfare” conveys the cognitive assent and practical actions necessary to “fare well” or to live in a state of well-being. Welfare is not a pejorative term even though it has been used to stereotype the poverty-stricken. Rather, welfare may be translated “well-being”. Furthermore, well being is a semantically accurate though incomplete translation of the community, individual and societal assent and acts of wholeness conveyed by the Hebrew word “shalom” (see Robert C. Linthicum on shalom). As evidenced in Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, mutual provision for the well being (shalom) of all – with special emphasis upon the poor – is essential to the life and sustained success of the entire society (Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Jeremiah 29:7, Proverbs 28:27, Acts 20:35, Matthew 5:7).  Why are we not endeavoring to achieve well-being for all?

 Why in the name of Economics are powerful policy-makers, organizations and institutions failing to see, hear and respond to the agonizing cries of the suffering masses who are jobless and underemployed; who are physically and spiritually hungry; who live in the woods because their homes have been foreclosed; who are imprisoned by a grossly engorged criminal justice system; who have lost faith, trust, and their investments in equity-producing systems and programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc) that were established by a past generation for future well-being?

Why in the name of Human Life are the factorings of federal and state budgets producing bottom lines that afford abundant benefits to the powerful, the wealthy, the influential, the elite, well-fed, well-housed, and the well-insulated; while unilaterally consigning the vulnerable masses to struggle and suffer in a sea of scarcity?

Why in the name of Politics are we so complacent, so accepting of inequity, so comfortable, so isolationist, so quick to judge, so cocksure, and so angrily limited in mercy?

 Why in the name of God are we not unifying with mutual empathy across our many differences to form interdependent communities of well-being (shalom) that collectively build, rebuild and sustain the common good?

In recovering from the Civil War, to restore after the Great Depression, for rebuilding after World War II, to liberate incarcerated minds, hearts, bodies, economies and relationships in every community, America has been successful because of its unity, empathy and shared power (resources). Now, in the wake of the Great Recession, at a time when hope, empathy, unity, and mutual power are necessary for achieving the common good, America has again arrived at a time for recovery, restoration, rebuilding, and liberation: a tipping point!

Will cocksure political and economic power result in a distant, passing wave of farewell to the struggling masses in our communities? Or will Americans unify in our collective recovery, restoration, rebuilding, and liberation?

Finding Firm Ground in Times of Upheaval

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Silence is the space and place that I have recently sought as humankind journeys through the cataclysmic events that now swirl across our trembling lands. Floods in Australia, earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, bitter economic, political and ideological divisiveness in the United States, peaceful transformation in Egypt, and killing air strikes in Libya; these events and many more remind me of the finitude of life and of our earth, the vital importance of relationship-centric interdependence, that our quest for unilateral power is unsustainable, and that the human will to survive and our endeavors to thrive are unquenchable.

While silencing of the multiplicity of chaos is my desire, I know that it will come only as humankind co-creates communities (small and large, near and far) in which common good (shalom-making) is achieved through unified relational power and mutually shared resources (Asset Based Community Development). Whether we accept it or not, whether we thrive or die, all humankind journeys together on this increasingly small planet earth that we call our home.

Swirling Spiral Galaxy M81 in Ursa Major (Big Dipper). Photo courtesy of NASA.

It was silence that I perceived through the lens of my childhood telescope on crisp Florida nights when the stars shone brightly and the silvery crescent of earth’s moon yielded exquisite views of the heavens. Out in the distant swirling abyss, my mind’s eye wandered and wondered amidst the quiet beauty, form, and power present in places I would never set foot. Across the great space between my eye and the distant horizon was a hope-filled presence, the tug of adventure-filled and yet difficult journeys yet to be traveled, and a sense of purpose. Perhaps it was the images from my telescope; perhaps it was my supportive family; it may have been science taught by my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Lee; or, maybe it was the steady venturing into space from nearby Cape Canaveral that motivated my childhood desire to become an astronaut and journey beyond the confines of terra firma.

Mission control celebrates. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The space race of the late 1960’s, landing a person on the moon, rallied massive national interest, support and provision, and focused some of the best resources and people on the planet to achieve this goal. The dangerous outward journey from home earth required wise, cohesive, sustained, collaborative investments. It was not an individualistic endeavor that yielded rewards for the few. Unity was a necessity and poignantly manifested during the Apollo 13 disaster when teams of colleagues tirelessly worked with the crew in order to survive an aborted lunar mission. The nation was fixated upon and unified in grave concern and steadfast hope for the crew of Apollo 13. The final destination for Apollo 13, or for that matter the entire space race, was not what anyone planned or expected; however, the journey yielded much more than the astronauts, mission control, and the nation could have asked for or imagined.

In my quest to become an astronaut, I learned early that there were constraints, namely my height, that redirected my aspirations. Although my destination would not to be achieved as I had hoped and dreamed, and I was disappointed, my eye and heart for adventuresome journeys and my delight in the night skies have not dimmed. Neither has my belief in the human capacity and will to survive and to thrive amidst unknown challenges that sometimes shake us to our core and redirect our journeys. Yielding my lofty goals for more earthly endeavors, my feet are firmly on the ground enlarging the circle of community.

Earth. Photo courtesy of NASA.

On our journeys through swirling chaos in which we seek shalom (silence, peace, unity, stability, love, compassion); what are ‘we’ to do? Will we unify and support one another on our collective journey, or will we take an exclusionary approach, attempting to ‘go it alone’? With the space race no longer a motivating force to propel our imagination and resources away from the earth, with our inward centripetal foci, with governments embroiled in divisive battles, with an overabundance of unilateral power being exerted upon the invulnerable and vulnerable, and with some transformative glimmers of hope, I believe humankind stands at a very unique and challenging time of opportunity. How will we — how will you and I — respond? I see signs in my community development work in the U.S. and abroad.

In this particular moment of silence, with an occasional glance out at the starry sky, my mind’s eye wanders and wonders amidst the beauty, form, and relational power that were present in my childhood that continues to emerge across the people, places, and communities of this earth that we call home. And, I remain grateful for the presence of hope and a tug of adventure to follow redirected paths through life on terra firma.

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From the Communities of Shalom Archives.

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Where does the time go?

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My grandmother, born in 1886 near Atlanta, Georgia, used to say to me, “the hurrier I go the behinder I get”. How true! As I have progressed through my formative years – graduate school and professional life, now a second career – I have come to appreciate, first hand, my grandmother’s statement. It now has a rich contextual meaning that it did not when I first heard it as a teenager.

A philosophy professor of mine once said, “Wisdom can never be taught. It must be lived”. There is some truth in his statement. However, I am still not so sure that we cannot learn practical wisdom across generations. I sure hope that we can and will. If we cannot, and will not, the costs to ourselves, our society, our planet will be immeasurable.

I recently read a reflection by a young woman, Brigitte, who quoted her nine year old son: “the key to speed is not to hurry”. Brigitte urges me (us) to be ‘mindful’ of societal ‘brainwashing’ that has the effect of compelling me, pushing us, to increase the speed of life at nearly any cost.

Where does the time go?
Koala Crossing sign on the road between Geelong and Lorne in Australia, by Dave Cooper.

Brigitte’s entry and my recent experiences with a very special presencing gathering in Yarrambat, Australia, have caused me to slow down, to pause, and to listen. Presencing, a blend of the words presence and sensing, refers to the ability to sense and bring into the present one’s highest future potential — as an individual and as a group (from Presencing Institute).

Where does the time go?

Apollo 11 is the mission that first landed a person on the moon, July 20, 1969.

Times are changing. Our journeys through these times, and the ways we respond, individually and collectively, yield both good and the not so good. My grandmother lived through the times of horse and buggies, the advent of the automobile, heavier than air flight, and a person walking on the moon. From our home in Florida, we watched the Saturn Five, Apollo lunar missions that were initiated by President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960’s. These late 19th and 20th century discoveries and the amazing changes they initiated have yielded much. Yet, I can’t begin to imagine what my grandmother must have experienced as the speed of life around her increased exponentially: what a blur. We are witnessing similar exponential change in the 21st century.

I remember a marketing phrase from the early 1970’s. I think it was IBM that coined it: The “new” computer will increase productivity so much that workers will have three day weekends. The reciprocal has proven to be true. In the U.S., we do much more work and have far less time in which to slow down, to pause: where is that three day weekend?

The goal of creating increased leisure time in order to spend some of it with family, friends, and in our communities is embedded in the computerization marketing message of the 1970’s. Of course, in America, increased leisure (quality) time has not been realized. Over the past thirty or so years, we have experienced the financial necessity of multiple wage earners in our families. We work longer hours so we can consume more stuff at a faster pace, then rush home to hurriedly finish our day so we can slow down.

Having returned from a wonderful time in Australia, and taking time to reflect upon the wisdom imparted to me by friends, former strangers (now friends), and family, I have slowed my pace. I pause. I listen attentively. I am present and sensing. Even with multiple competing demands, I make time for conversation. I enjoy a coffee or tea at a café. I give my family members an extra hug. I correspond with people in my communities, both near and far. I am actively and passively participating in presencing for the well-being (or shalom) of one another, our communities, and our planet.

Where does the time go?
Kafe Kaos in the seaside village of Lorne in Australia, by Dave Cooper.

The Hebrew word for whole-community well-being is shalom. While shalom encompasses much more than can be translated into English, shalom is manifested when there is shared power, equity and mutual beneficence among physical, social, economic, political and spiritual organizations, institutions, and systems. Shalom is not simply a transcendent hope; rather, it is a concrete, tangible, proactive, wise, investment of all resources (including time) to work in concert for the common good.

I am deeply engaged with shalom-making in communities across the United States and abroad. I facilitate, train, coach, support, and advocate for shalom-makers as an independent consultant and via the Drew University Shalom Initiative. I apply Asset Based Community Development and community organizing principles and techniques to help communities develop and achieve their own outcomes. Shalom-making is not easy and not for the timid. It is an emergent, locally-led, co-creating, bold, sustained, and collaborative endeavor for the healthy and whole transformation of the communities in which we live, work, learn, and play. I am a shalom-maker: enlarging the circle of community for the common good.

This post also appears on http://colabradio.mit.edu/.

In an upcoming entry, look for more on Australia and the wonderful people that I met and worked with there.

Shalom in the journey

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November 2010 and early December have been filled to overflowing with wonderful opportunities to learn from and share with an exceptionally talented array of world-class, globally connected, creative, practitioners of Asset Based Community Development on two continents.

In my journey from the East to the West coast of the United States and back again; and, into and around Melbourne, Australia, I have enjoyed and been enriched by new and renewed connections with friends and colleagues that are deeply devoted to shalom-making: though they may not use the word “shalom” to describe it. From sociologists, psychologists, theologians, artists, and entrepreneurs of many types; to corporate executives, social workers, farmers, social activists, chefs and baristas, and spanning at least three languages, the relationships and mutual learning have been in two words: marvelously rich!

Reflecting upon particularly the past couple of months, I have learned at least three key things (actually much more than three) from my relationships, consulting, facilitating, and collaborating through the Uniting Church of Australia and Tasmania Commission for Mission and the Drew University Shalom Initiative.

First, I have a newfound sense of journeys as sacred spaces in which God’s creative and creating spirit beckons us into paths of deeper presence and communion with God, with one’s self, and with the community by which to energize and resource common good (shalom-making). Much like Otto Scharmer posits in his Theory U, and as Adrian Pyle applies to spiritual journeys, being fully present with an open mind, heart and will (“presencing”) in the places and times that our journeys take us will open opportunities for profoundly powerful and transformative interactions with other journeyers. As I learned and re-learn in new ways in the second half of my life, it is more about the journey and the relationships along the way than it is the destination. Sacred space is in the journey, not just the destination.

Second, journeys are catalyzed by Power that transcends place, time, and one’s current sense of purpose. For example, as I shared with friends and colleagues in Australia, my great grandparents purposed to migrate from England to Australia in the 1840’s; however, their plans were not to be realized at that time in history. On the other hand, I am the first of my family to visit Australia, carrying with me a sense of sacred purpose that is likely different (though who knows) from my great grandparents. As my life’s journey continues, perhaps I will have a better understanding of the meaning of the relationships and purposes along the way. Finally, in my understanding of systems theories, the impacts of purposed “presencing” in the sacred spaces of intersecting journeys will yield ripple effects across time that transcend our human capacity to understand or measure.

Third, as Desmond Tutu taught in my class with him at Emory University Candler School of Theology, “ubuntu” (becoming human through other humans) requires seeking, affirming, and celebrating the “imago dei” (imprint or image of God) that every human possesses; and, to seek, affirm and celebrate diversity and common values in culturally relevant, community-building, spiritually-renewing, life-giving, liberating ways. Among the diversity of peoples, cultures, and geographies with whom I have had the pleasure to recently work, I rejoice in, am thankful for, and celebrate the nascent presence of the Spirit which yields faith, hope and love.

I have witnessed the presence, activity and flourishing of shalom among the peoples and places along my journey: clearly, God is up to something new and refreshing. The wind of the Spirit blows where it wills; therefore, my mission, your mission, our mission is to be authentically present and open to the transformative power of God that is able to accomplish (among and through us) far more than we could ask for or even imagine.

More on Australia in my next blog entry…

DC (12/08/2010)

Drew University Communities of Shalom training @ Ocean Grove

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The training @ Communities of Shalom in Ocean Grove, NJ was rich and wonderful.

The session that I led on the analysis of power (physical, social, economic, individual, political, and symbolic) sparked great conversation. We applied power analysis in community organizing (5 types from another of my sessions) and power systems mapping in terms of Asset Based Community Development.

I drew from my own research and a variety of resources that include Robert C. Linthicum’s Building a People of Power,  Kristina Smock’s Democracy in Action, F. Ellen Netting and Mary K. O’Connor’s 4 paradigms in Organization Practice, and the Asset Based Community Development Institute.

Dave