Deep Change

June 8, 2009 Leave a comment

It is Sunday morning and the last day of a conference that I have been attending called Deep Change: Transforming the Practice of Social Justice. We are at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the beautiful state of North Carolina. The South is a perfect location for this convening for as one of the participants said, “I long for the South to heal because if the South heals the United States heals and if the United States heals the world will heal”.

Eighty frontline organizers, intermediary organizations and funders have gathered here to learn together, deepen their connections to one another and thereby create a shared sense of identity and an expanded field of spiritual activism. This coming together is a fractal, a small slice of a movement renewed and re-grounded in “an ethic of sustainability, spirituality and a broader understanding of freedom’ committed to infusing spiritual practice into the pursuit of social justice.

I am one of the veterans here. My own activism launched 40 years ago as an anti-poverty community organizer on the Mexican border town of Laredo, Texas. Movement work at that time was inspired by and rooted in the spirituality of the civil rights, farm workers and anti-war movements. Many activists were animated by their Jewish understanding of social justice or of their Christian roots in the social gospel. As the movement and sector evolved political analysis and spirituality became disaggregated as the movement turned its attention to building effective organizations and leaders. This detour was probably an important leg of the journey but one that needs to be left behind as we seek new ways to build a just and sustainable world.

My own experience during that time had the wilderness quality of wandering and confusion for I could never understand how or why we had created this kind of oppositional thinking. I am so very grateful and inspired by this new generation of activists who are committed to re-integrating inner and outer transformation in the pursuit of social justice and transformative change.

As part of this extraordinary gathering we were enchanted and changed by our encounters with the artistry and talent of two of North Carolina’s best: Spoken Word poet, Glenis Redmond, and bluegrass musicians, Baby Cowboy.

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  • Linda says:

    Wonderful post Marianne! The conference sounds amazing!

    One addition I would make is that in addition to the disaggregation happening because of movement turning its attention toward building effective organizations and leaders – there was also, as I remember (in the literal sense of feeling it in my body, re-membering) a sense of disillusion – to be blunt – with the misogeny, homophobia, racism and conservativism that were part of the spiritual traditions some of us grew up with. So I think there has been some of throwing the baby out with the bathwater – and some conflating what happened with religious institutions with the possibilities of spiritual practice. It seems a key part of the process of re-integration to recognize some of that history – some work to be done healing the wounds many experienced at the hands of some of our religious institutions.

  • Linda says:

    Thinking some more about your great post today. I loved the links – and look forward to learning more about them!

    And to add to the earlier comment, just wanted to clarify that I didn’t want to imply I was talking about all religious institutions, only that I have heard comments over and over throughout the years about this. I’m so glad to hear about these shifts, the integration work that’s happening and the transformation that leaves room for. Perhaps this can bring some healing as well.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    I hear what you’re saying, Linda. It’s easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater. While many of the pillars of the Civil Rights Movements were Christians working for progressive social change, over the past 25 years, many of the most visible Christians in the U.S. have mostly been active on socially and politically conservative issues. One notable exception is some black clergy who have intervened around youth violence.

    And, I hope folks will hang on to that baby as some of the bathwater drains! I’m heartened by some of the newer voices in the politically progressive Christian community such as the Boston Faith and Justice Network joining in with more established voices like Sojourners and Cornel West

  • Andria Winther says:

    Thank you for sharing a slice of your experience Marianne. I was very taken by, and am swimming in the meaning of, the comment of a participant that you related:“I long for the South to heal because if the South heals the United States heals and if the United States heals the world will heal”.

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