It's all two both!

June 1, 2010 4 Comments


|Photo by Movement Strategy Center||

I’ve just read “Out of the Spiritual Closet,” a report out of the Movement Strategy Center, and it is one of the most exciting pieces I’ve read in a while.  It is a timely read, in tune with a lot of the conversation we have been having here on the IISC Blog for the last few weeks.  This persistent question of whether to take a “transformational” or a “structural” approach leads us to a false dichotomy – it really is “All two both!”

The MSC report successfully exposes us to a significant shift within US based social movements.  It points us to organizers, organizations and networks of people who are more intentionally tuning in to their inner resources – their spiritual power – in a way that actually enhances their capacity to address the desperate need for structural change.

The authors do an excellent job of articulating the struggle that so many organizers face as they give their lives to the struggle for justice in a context that too often denies their own individual need to become whole.  It speaks to burn out, negative tensions among peers and allies, and even to the judgment organizers have to face when they start to tend to their spiritual selves.

The truth is that we’ve been at this for a long time.  The coinciding political and spiritual awakenings of the 1960s have been at strange odds with each other ever since.  People were too often asked to choose between paying attention to their spiritual selves or taking political action in the “real” world.  The vestiges of these pressures have continued to tear at social movements in the US.  I can’t tell you how often I find myself on either side of that debate – talking to a “spiritual oneness” type about the need to account for structural inequality in our political realm or working with a hard core organizer who can’t help but roll his eyes when I invite a group to take a few breaths together.

With “Out of the Spiritual Closet,” the MSC makes a huge contribution towards the integration of these perspectives.  It invites us not only to tend to our own selves, but to find ways to build this type of care into our organizations, gatherings and even into our analysis – I’ll leave you with one of the most provocative lines in the report:

“We rarely use power mapping techniques that include the power we get from within.  This intellectual approach to landscaping power can unintentionally disempower our organizations and communities.  While it’ hard to quantify spiritual or emotional power, leaving it out of the overall picture leaves little room for us to imagine ourselves as powerful”



  • Curtis says:


    I’m reminded of the competing strains of medicine that are often classified as “traditional” and “alternative.” It’s amazing how the debate between these two continues to rage as opposed to being viewed as complementary. Having just returned from my father’s second round of chemo in a hospital that also offers things like referrals to reiki and sound therapy, I am sensing the relief and power that comes from integration. Just as the great quote you end with states, if we leave out the spiritual and emotional aspects of health, well there goes a considerable amount of our healing potential. All two both indeed!

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    True enough! I spent some time this spring helping my son Marcus with his thesis, about Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964 and was reminded about the deep integration of faith and activism in the Civil Rights Movement. The mass meetings and prayers in churches, the protest music borrowed from the Christian hymnal, and the Old Testament stories that bound many Christian and Jewish activists together around godly demands for justice and freedom created power and courage that went far beyond intellectual assent to the rightness of the cause.

  • Christian says:

    “a context that too often denies their own individual need to become whole”

    Indeed I see this as crucial. We need to pursue personal perfection at the same time that we pursue societal perfection. Here I think of Kant’s categorical imperative and Matthew Arnold’s normative definition of culture, two of my deepest inspirations.

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