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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The U path: a spark ignited in Yarrambat.

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In a recent blog entry, “Where does the time go”, I mentioned my wonderful experiences with the slower pace of life in community at the edge of the “bush” in Yarrambat, Victoria, Australia. There is much more to the story.

It was mid November, 2010 when a group of people from diverse backgrounds and geographies gathered for two days in Yarrambat to, well, to be creative; to get to know one another; to enjoy some scones, jam and tea; to listen carefully; to be present to one another; to share our stories and our wisdom; to reflect upon why, how and where community forms and sustains itself. One of my roles in this gathering was to share my experiences in Asset Based Community Development as a shalom-maker (co-creator of community well-being).

Our gracious host for the gathering, Adrian Pyle, invested over a year in planning, inviting and bringing together this diverse group: no surprise since he has the very cool title and role of Director, Relationships Innovation with the Uniting Church in Australia. In planning the gathering, Adrian adapted a model known as Theory U, developed by MIT professor Otto Scharmer, and applied the path of the “U” to inform and shape our community time. As Adrian puts it:

The path of the “U” as I am using it can be seen as a general spiritual path, giving access to a life of “earth community” rather than empire. A range of spiritual traditions, philosophies and models can be seen to give access to the path… it [the U path] is like an inviting campfire, around which are drawn various parties interested in ideas of post-colonialism and non-violence and from backgrounds across, organizational development, community development, faith development and national and international development.

And, so it happened last November. We dipped into the “U” and emerged with fresh new connections and concepts that bridge across our various communities. Participants of various faith traditions and professional disciplines were profoundly moved and felt the synergy to continue conversations, connections, and plans; even across the planet.

From the spark ignited at Yarrambat, and continuing on the U path, community is both expanding and converging. As social entrepreneur, writer, teacher and developer Gail Plowman writes in “Dealing with social problems that get stuck” and “The Church – a ‘presencing’ body for advancing sustainability”, the transformational processes of community-building are taking place in ways and locations previously unimagined.

As sparks ignite in our communities, like Yarrambat, it is vitally important to our collective future to attend to and follow a U path for the common good of our neighborhoods, our neighbors and our planet. Adrian Pyle writes:

Creating conditions for more people to follow the “U” path therefore means creating the conditions where truly unique neighbourhoods can develop in every place and time. Nurturant, local neighbourhoods are the spaces which can be made safe enough for the true selfhood of the individual to emerge. This means that there must be heightened awareness of the educational, organisational, philosophical, spiritual and political conditions which create such neighbourhoods.

Where is your community on the U path?

N. David (Dave) Cooper, MDiv, MSW, CPM of Shalom-Makers: enlarging the circle of community.

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)