Thanks to all who joined the August 5th Town Hall. Be sure to look out for weekly invitations to upcoming Town Hall meetings. You can register now here for next week’s Town Hall on August 12. As always, feel free to share with your network.
We have included the Town Hall recording below as well as each of the previous weekly Town Halls.
-And an update on the LF COVID-19 Activation Fund and funding opportunity in partnership with Whitworth University
May 6 Town Hall featuring: – A Funding Opportunity for Local Leadership Foundations in partnership with Whitworth University – Lisa Lampman and Bianca Singleton updating us on the response from the LF Mentoring network – Lina Thompson, Senior Pastor at Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
April 29 Town Hall featuring: – Doug Holladay, Founder & CEO, PathNorth – Wilna De Beer, Tshwane Leadership Foundation, Pretoria, South Africa – Leadership Foundations COVID-19 Campaign
April 22 Town Hall featuring: – Rev. Dr. Terry McGonigal, Director of the Office of Church Engagement, Whitworth University – Larry Lloyd, Memphis Leadership Foundation – Leadership Foundations Impact Analysis Results
April 15 Town Hall featuring: – Noel Castellanos, Sr Innovation Fellow, Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center – Rudy Carrasco, Program Director, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust – Sam Skillern, Salem Leadership Foundation, Salem, OR – Eric Geary, Lexington Leadership Foundation, Lexington, KY
April 8 Town Hall featuring: – Dale Irvin, Sr Innovation Fellow, Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center – Lisa Slayton, Sr Innovation Fellow, Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center – Randy White, The Center for Community Transformation, Fresno, CA
April 1 Town Hall featuring: – Dan Cardinali, President & CEO, Independent Sector – June Carrington, Beacons of Hope, New York City, NY – Abhishek Gier, Catalyst Leadership Foundation, Delhi, India – Nathaniel Price, Transform Scott County, Georgetown, KY
Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.'”
For Juneteenth this year, I was in downtown Atlanta with my church and a group of other churches where we marched for racial justice in our city. While my heart breaks for the many places where justice does not yet exist as a reality for people of my skin tone, my heart is full for the way that we were leading the way in the march for justice.
It was also a great chance for me to reflect on my own leadership journey, what has led me to where I am serving as president for the Resurgence Leadership Foundation, and where we are at this moment in time in Atlanta and in the world.
As a child, I grew up in Louisiana and migrated to Tacoma, Washington—like many black families in the ‘70s, we were looking for opportunity and our parents worked hard to give us the best shot they could. Here I met some remarkable leaders who I had the great privilege to be shaped by– Dave Hillis, as my Young Life leader, John Bratholm as my basketball coach, and Wendell Phillips, the bus driver for Bethesda Baptist Church on the East side who picked me up– someone who introduced me to the power of the Gospel—it was these men that saw something in me and wanted to invest in me.
How powerful it was in my life to be pursued by these people who saw in me what I couldn’t, who saw potential where I didn’t…
In the early ’80s in Tacoma I didn’t see a lot of people like me – especially in leadership. I’m 6’3”, black, male, cisgendered. Few leaders looked like me. But a gift given early on in my leadership journey was ownership—not a lot of black folks were owners of anything in Tacoma in the ‘80s.
I did, however, get to engage with a great black leader, Tom Skinner, and see what it looked like to be a leader, black, and proud. This informed my own my work—as a youth leader, and now as a local Leadership Foundation president.
Hope and Pain, side-by-side
Right now in Atlanta, there’s a lot going on currently, especially in light of the events that have taken place recently with Rayshard Brooks being shot and killed a few weeks ago. It’s really disheartening – how old this stuff is, and how it didn’t need to happen.
But at the same time, there’s so much here that gives me strength—this is the city of Tyler Perry after all. Keisha Lance Bottoms, a black woman, is our remarkably talented mayor. I remember first coming to Atlanta and saying to myself, “there’s people that look like me that run stuff here!”
This is our tension-filled space in a place like Atlanta—so much hope, but so much work still to do.
The Broken Down Fence
The Covid-19 Pandemic is providing a remarkable opportunity for our world. There are no distractions – we have no sports to distract us.
The pandemic has slowed us down so much that we finally have to deal with what’s in front of us. Many who’ve had their eyes closed, have been forced to open them for the first time to things they would rather ignore –the reality of racial inequity. It’s nothing new, but now they see it.
Even the tall fences—both real and imagined—that people have built around their houses and lives, have been broken down – that is a good thing. With the fence gone, now we have to look at one another.
Equity Means Ownership
What Leadership Foundations offers is ownership – At LF we are all owners, not employees – we own our organizations, we encourage ownership throughout our cities, and we voluntarily opt in to a common way of engaging our city through the wheel of change. You don’t have to abdicate your authority or equity to be in leadership.
That’s why I’m so excited that 55% of local Leadership Foundations are led by people of color. That’s compared to the US nonprofit sector having fewer than 20% of its organizations led by people of color. As a Senior Innovation Fellow with LF, I’m excited for the work ahead of us of strengthening this pipeline of leaders of color to lead in cities throughout the world.
Wakanda—when the invisible becomes visible
Where do we find hope right now? The closing scene of Black Panther is an inspiring image of what this looks like:
Let’s set the scene: T’Challa (Black Panther) and his sister are in Oakland, California, with some young brothers playing ball on a playground. His sister thought they were headed to the ritzy part of the state and were going to Coachella.
“No,” T’Challa says—”here….” “…And we own that building, and that one and that one. This will be our first Wakanda International Outreach Center…”
But here’s the kicker – the technology from Wakanda comes down on the court and the boys start running around it.
It’s that idea of the invisible becoming visible, on the playground—the idea that—at Leadership Foundations we truly believe this—Wakanda has always been there.
At LF, this is what we’re about. We want to make sure that what was invisible shows up and becomes visible in those places that don’t ordinarily see it—in places that deserve it just like everywhere else.
Cornelius Williams, Jr. is the Founder and president of the Resurgence Leadership Foundation, based in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up in Tacoma, Washington, attended Lincoln High School, led Young Life urban work in Portland, Oregon, and now leads Resurgence in its work to meet leaders where they are at and build tailored solutions enabling them to make a lasting impact in the communities they serve. Cornelius also serves as a Senior Innovation Fellow for Leadership Foundations’ Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center.
A reflection from David Hawn, CEO of the Leadership Foundation of Minneapolis, Urban Ventures.
Dear friends and supporters: What an amazing group of compassionate people you are!
Tuesday, thanks to donations from the Timberwolves/Lynx, Hy-Vee, Matter (a global nonprofit organization based in St. Louis Park), and all of you, we distributed several tons of food and essential items in one burst––much more than I could have ever dreamed possible a mere two weeks ago.
Crisis support has been essential while local markets were closed. This week, however, some small business owners are trying to re-open their shops. Therefore, our focus must now shift away from flooding our neighborhood with free items, towards spurring small business recovery, stimulating spending by neighborhood families, and reviving the local economy.
Immediately providing a $5,000, no-strings-attached grant to 140 small businesses in close proximity to our campus; this incredible gift is made possible by a generous anonymous donor. While this won’t eliminate all the needs of these small business owners, it will go a long way toward helping a large number of them quickly get their businesses re-opened.
Partnering with small businesses to purchase large blocks of gift cards to their stores that we will then distribute to local families; a nice win-win transaction. We will discontinue our free food and product distribution center as this program rolls out over the coming weeks.
This strategy provides tangible and immediate assistance to our community. It also allows us an opportunity to deepen longstanding relationships and form new ones. As we deliver this assistance, we are listening closely to the needs of business owners, then matching groups of skilled volunteers to support specific requests on a case-by-case basis. We are also referring owners with more substantial needs to other governmental and private funding sources.
Urban Ventures is leading recovery efforts on Lake Street with a focus on the long-term. Our big goal–to prepare and send every child in our neighborhood to college or some form of postsecondary education–remains unchanged. But right now, Lake Street’s small business owners need us. And by “us” I mean YOU.
I am so grateful for you and all you are giving in this season,
Our hearts break and our souls are wrenched over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We also acknowledge that they join a long list of others, some of whose names we don’t even know, spread throughout the world. The horrific violence that occurred in South Minneapolis at the doorstep of our local Leadership Foundation, Urban Ventures, last week raises the question yet again: What can we do to help?
It is everyone’s responsibility to confront racism, in our own hearts and in the words and actions of others. There is no future flourishing of people and cities apart from this honest encounter with ourselves. However, and at an even deeper level, the answer lies less in what any one person can do alone than what can collectively be done together. To know relationships is to know change. This is the path forward for Leadership Foundations.
This starts with how we approach the issues that lead to social problems. Too often we approach these complex issues with solutions from an outside-in perspective. Those who are removed, who study the issue, prescribing solutions that, while well meaning, often miss the mark.
The answer, we believe, lies in being in relationship with one another, to committing to people and places for the long haul. The strength of Leadership Foundations is its diverse network of leaders on the ground in over 40 cities, who have been committed to this for the last 40 years and will continue to do so moving forward, in times of crisis and times of calm. Those relationships—this bedrock of social capital—are what have enabled local Leadership Foundations to jump into action and be effective early in the pandemic and during the past week, standing arm in arm with their neighbors who are angry and feel helpless.
Our experience teaches us that in every community there are those who understand the issues they and their neighbors face far better than anyone on the outside. One of our primary functions at Leadership Foundations is to elevate and connect these potential and emergent leaders; to build a common ground that drives deeper insight into our problems and is able to discern what it takes to solve them. We know and have seen that through collaboration and collective action we can fashion solutions that actually work.
An example of this can be found in Minneapolis where the Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation works alongside 50+ local partners to address opportunity gaps in academics, nutrition, physical activity, parenting resources, and more—all with the overarching goal to prepare and send every youth in the South Minneapolis neighborhood to college or postsecondary education.
Urban Ventures is now in the middle of the perfect storm: buffeted by the COVID-19 pandemic on one side and the senseless killing of Mr. Floyd that resulted in over 120 local businesses being burned down on the other side. As Urban Ventures swims in this overwhelming tide of sorrow and suffering, they are doing what they have always done for the last 25 years: working in, with and through relationships to provide food, rent, mortgage assistance, and support to small businesses just to name a few. It is concrete action that wears a relational overcoat.
Our cities are living, breathing organisms that reflect and manifest our collective joys, sorrows, and hopes. And, while cities continue to offer real signs of hope, we too often continue to see them as battlegrounds, with the zero-sum game mentality that this encourages – what one side gains the other surrenders. But if we can begin to regard our cities more as playgrounds, we can see there is more abundance than scarcity. Through collaboration and collective action community centers once abandoned are reborn, parks once derelict and dangerous are now green and full of families, and our streets are places of peace and good will.
There is no single answer that will solve the long history of racialized violence represented in George Floyd’s death, and the similar pain that we are experiencing in our cities all over the world. What any answer will be characterized by, however, is the courage to walk down two paths paved by relationship: coming to grips with our personal complicity and the collective commitment to work with others.
It will determine whether our cities are battlegrounds or playgrounds.
There are a lot of universal experiences right now as a result of this pandemic. The one I’d like to consider together is the universal experience of waiting.
We are all doing a lot of waiting right now and like the psalmist we cry out, “How long, O Lord?”
Waiting is hard. We’re all waiting for things to “open up” again. We want freedom from our stay at home orders. We want things to get back to normal.
Yet, waiting is one of God’s favorite invitations to us. In the waiting there is some Biblical advice that turns waiting into something active rather than something that is merely passive. Waiting in a Biblical worldview is largely about living in hope: holding on to what we know to be true and looking for the signs of God’s presence in the midst of our wait.
Waiting informed by hope is more than standing still and lamenting all that isn’t. It is about pivoting. If we can’t move forward in the direction we want to go, we can pivot on one foot, change our perspective and ask ourselves what we can see, what we can know, what we can do in the space where we have to remain. It’s the invitation that Jeremiah called the exiles in Babylon to consider:
Pivot. Change your perspective. Take in where you are and do what you can in that place. Live in hope rather than a state of longing informed mostly by despair. We all have our own versions of what such a pivot might bring into view and many of us are acting on the invitations that have come into focus.
What would this kind of pivot look like in your own life?
Here at Leadership Foundations we have pivoted in the 40+ cities around the world that we love and serve. Some of us are providing food to the vulnerable in our city and others are mentoring youth online. We have also created an ambitious activation fund to raise much needed support to enable our cities to continue the critical relief work they are doing.
As each of us continues to wait during this time, let’s pivot to take in what is around us, asking God to show us what we have not yet seen. God’s love has not stopped. God’s presence is still something on which we can rely. Let’s give witness to both of these truths as we seek the welfare of the cities to which God has sent us.
Barb Marshall is a member of the Leadership Foundations Board, providing critical strategic support to our network of 40+ local Leadership Foundations around the world. She co-leads a weekly prayer time on behalf of the LF global network. Barb has over 30 years of experience in education, ranging from elementary education to leadership development to spiritual formation.
In response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Leadership Foundations began holding weekly Town Hall Meetings spotlighting relevant experts, theological responses to the crisis, and the real-time responses of the network. In case you have missed them or want to rewatch, you can find the recordings below.
Like so many others, we could have never imagined what the beginning of 2020 would hold for our world and nation. We at Lexington Leadership Foundation (LLF) have been challenged with the question,
“How do we serve our city, while still adhering to the guidelines set in place for our community’s safety?”
What does LLF’s role for the city look like during this time? Our team has been collaborating on the best ways to serve our neighbors. We suspended our regular in-person programming and adjusted our work to address the pressing needs of people in our community and shine Christ’s love and light.
We are working with our partners to serve hundreds of meals to children and families- averaging 136 meals distributed per day, along with a smile and a friendly face. We will continue to do this as long as we are able. Our staff is also checking in on our students, their families, volunteers, and partners to identify their needs and connecting them to resources. A few of our students didn’t have a computer at home, so we helped get them one to ensure the kids could do their schoolwork. One of our bi-lingual team members is taking on the role of Resource Coordinator, working by phone to provide emotional support during an overwhelming time and help families access available resources.
We don’t know how long life will operate like this, but we do know that God is good and in control. In the midst of these uncertain times, we continue to lean into our call to serve Lexington and the people who call it home.
The global crisis that we now find ourselves in, with the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, is placing unimaginable stress on vulnerable communities and those experiencing poverty. As millions are on lockdown and businesses are closing, unemployment is spiking. Paying rent and utilities, getting food and finding basics like diapers is tougher than ever before.
Yet during such a time of uncertainty and crisis, people are together to support one another in new and remarkable ways.
Local Leadership Foundations throughout the world are stepping up and taking the lead in helping demonstrate the COVID-19 crisis as a our collective strength.
In Georgetown, Kentucky, the local Leadership Foundation, Transform Scott Countyis coordinating its volunteer response on behalf of the entire county. In conjunction with local government, Transform Scott County is staffing the local helpline.
In conjunction with church partners, they are managing phone lines every day Monday-Friday. Thanks to their efforts, the elderly and people who are immunocompromised are able to get essential medicine and food, that they’d otherwise have to go without. We then refer the request to sheriff deputies for delivery or to our local food bank for people who cannot purchase food.
RIOTS ON TOP OF THE VIRUS
In Delhi, India, the local leadership Foundation, Catalyst, is serving in an extremely tense environment — many have recently lost their homes to riots, migrant farm workers have been pushed out of their humble dwellings, and the city is under a complete lock-down.
Catalyst has been given special permission and is one of the only groups in the entire city that can leave their houses to provide services. Every day, their staff work tirelessly to try to meet the emergency needs of the most vulnerable and destitute on the streets of Delhi.
Keep Us, our city, our country and the whole world in your prayers.”
says Catalyst president, Abhishek Gier.
These are just a few examples of the heroic ways in which Leadership Foundations are stepping up amidst this global crisis on behalf of vulnerable people in cities throughout the world.
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Consider making a special gift today to Leadership Foundations to ensure that our network can continue to be as responsive to the growing and long term needs as we seek to not only meet emergency need, but to rebuild and rehabilitate these communities.
T.S. Eliot, in his poem regarding Ash Wednesday which inaugurates the Lenten Season we are currently walking through as a Church, writes these evocative lines: “Where shall the word be found, where will the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.”
These words haunt me, and perhaps you. They raise the question not of whether the word is ever present and accessible; we know it is. The very economy of God is described through the parable of the sower as scandalously effulgent. The word is seen falling everywhere on all parts of our life: the holy and the profane. Rather, the question the poem raises is whether you and I are present and accessible. In short, have we nurtured a space where there is “enough silence” so the word can “be found” and, where it will “resound?”
One of the great graces of the Lenten Season is that we are given explicit permission to spend time on ourselves in a way that the other four seasons of the church do not allow. We are meant to focus on those places in our life where “there is not enough silence” and make the necessary changes. This is hard work. Work that while needed, can leave us in a state of disequilibrium, despondency and with a feeling of disqualification.
And yet, it is in this very season of Lent, and this very place of desperation, that God graciously affords us the time and space to answer Eliot’s question in the positive; that we may collaborate with God’s Spirit to create a “silence” where it is possible that the “word be found” where it will “resound.”
Many blessings and may this Lenten Season be a place where you find enough “silence” so the word can be “found” and “resound” in your life, ministry and city.
Thank you, Bill. I never thought I’d be in the position of being introduced by YOU, someone who not only has become a kind of elder statesman in my life, and mentor, but a real friend. You’ve been someone whose convictions around the foundational importance of relationships in all their mess and all their glory have granted people like me permission to celebrate the softer mysteries of life in a town and frankly a broader philanthropic arena that tend to be afraid of the stuff you can’t measure in an input-output linear logic. Thank you, Bill, for paving the way so that romantics like me might sing with a little more confidence.
And speaking of singing, I confess it’s hard not to let my eyes water up here in following Nyack’s Gospel Ensemble. This evening is complete with their offering – you don’t need my words. The first piece they sang, “Amazing,” was actually the celebratory anthem that circled my husband and me almost three years ago as we held hands underneath the chuppah that served as a canopy over that holy altar of vows exchanged on our wedding day. David and I were surrounded by concentric circles of friends who had suffered long with us to discern our way to that marital consecration, and punctuating those circles were eight singers from Nyack’s Gospel Ensemble, proclaiming the amazing grace of a God who had not let the purity of our unexpected love story be defeated by those who would seek to twist it. It’s really humbling to find myself sharing a different kind of stage with you all tonight.
So I actually want to peel back the curtain on the very institution that these amazing singers come to us from, namely, Nyack College, because I think something about Nyack, which of course is a fallen and very imperfect institution like all institutions, still, something about it points the way toward a future and some ancient truths that can rejuvenate all of us in the work of “Thy Kingdom Come,” of turning battlegrounds into playgrounds, of serving as civic and spiritual nodes that connect and cohere local ecosystems for the patterned build of hope for the nation at large.
In the spring of 2015 I encountered two worlds within 24 hours—worlds yoked by creed but divided by demographic and disposition. On a crisp Wednesday evening, I was invited to attend a cocktail reception at the New York Yacht Club for a celebration amongst Catholics, evangelicals and orthodox Jewish individuals honoring the legacy of a man named Dietrich von Hildebrand, a philosopher and anti-Nazi hero during World War II. The room was filled with intellectuals, politicos, bankers and think tankers, and it was largely male and 100 percent Caucasian. These were true believers, and yet they felt isolated in their faith amidst a secular elite, beleaguered as well by a mainstream culture that seemed increasingly hostile to some fundamental principles.
“New York is so secular,” one panelist lamented, “we need the moral courage of von Hildebrand to stand against the corrosive culture of our day.”
It was just weeks before the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and there was an air of embattled weariness in the room. The panelists sounded fearful, even defensive, though our surroundings were plush, and many of us, had you asked for a resume summary, held pedigrees sparkling with brands like Harvard and Yale, The New York Times and Google.
Not 24 hours later I was sitting in the front row of Bethel Gospel Assembly church in Harlem, waiting for graduates of Nyack College to walk down the aisle and receive their hoods. As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, Nyack is an unapologetically Christian university whose campus in Battery Park draws from the hundreds of storefront churches that line the boroughs beyond Manhattan. The pews were overflowing with immigrant families, Asians, Latinos and African Americans hailing from Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and beyond, with the bulk of the international students coming from the majority world. I watched a 79-year old grandmother ascend the stage and collect her diploma for the first time, followed by a Chinese woman in a wheelchair, followed a single mother, followed by an ex-offender.
Joy and expectation filled the air as one by one these graduates walked, danced and bowed their way to the stole that would confer the student’s official readiness for ministry and community-builders. According to the commencement bulletin, most graduates were planning to return to their home neighborhoods to serve in churches, social agencies, schools and counseling centers. Instead of expressing fear that a great Christian heritage was losing ground, there was compassion in their testimonies, the scent of hope anchored in humility and fervent faith. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when one Nyack professor addressed the graduates: “You don’t have to wait in line behind other people who are more important than you to receive God’s love.” Said another, “If the world will not listen to your words, make them listen to your lives.”
I’m going to show you a brief video so you have a fuller sense of the spirit of the thing. And Nyack singers, I don’t think anything here will feel all that new, but, assuming you’ve not graduated yet, hopefully a preview of this scene helps you pull through the grind of your last few semesters to arrive at this culminating day.
So I was sitting here caught up in the gorgeous triumph of it all, and I couldn’t help but let my mind wander back to the reception the night before. The contrast was striking. One room had held a concentration of the elite faithful, largely homogenous in educational and racial make-up, nostalgic and worried. Yet not one subway stop away was this room full of Christians of every tribe and tongue, radiating hope and purpose. I found my own soul singing, moved by the sight of faith without fear nor guile. Where was this world in the Yacht Club’s more foreboding diagnosis? Why the demographic blind spot among the quote “influencers” anxious for the future of Christendom?
It’s now been four years since that encounter, and we in the U.S. have since had an election that has exposed the cultural fences between coast and heartland, the “creative class” and everyone else. National elites are wringing their hands at a country they thought they understood, but don’t. Racial tensions are up, accompanied by a renewed, hot reckoning with our mottled history as a nation founded on ideals of human dignity and equality, that time and again has failed to embody them. A crisis of solidarity has cracked open, running first along lines of social class, now layered if not eclipsed by race and ideological worldview. Some of the more prominent voices of the Church, instead of serving as repairers of the breach, as is always the call for the people of God, have capitulated to the pressures of a divided land, baptizing their belligerence in the name of the common good while manifesting few of the virtues this good requires.
A subtle yet important question embedded here is one of influence: How are Christians called to influence the larger culture? As long as I’ve been an adult swimming in and out of Christian waters, talk of “witness” and “Christ redeeming culture” has seemed to hinge more on strategies leveraging temporal power than it has about nurturing contexts for demonstrations of God’s power. From messianic hopes placed in the White House every four years, to theories of cultural change overly dependent upon our elites and the institutions they represent maintaining the public trust, there seems to be a glaring forgetfulness about who Jesus Christ said He was and the Beatitudinal Kingdom He came to bring.
Now, a personal caveat. I’m not anti-Western civ: I have been shaped by its ideals, I have worked for institutions that seek to protect the best of those ideals. I’m also growing – I hope – to appreciate the healthy role that top-down strategies of cultural and even political influence can play, to believe in the possibility that advocacy organizations and platforms of national reach can serve the common good if these large power stewards are humble, if they listen, and if they’re able to serve the public interest in deferential relationship to the local wisdom that today seems to be making the kind of impact we as a society actually need. It was just that at Nyack, in all its grittiness, local orientation, prismatic perspective and eyes made deep by more suffering than I could ever understand, the future felt closer, the Christian difference more palpable. Here were souls whose stories were rooted in exile, and yet they were living into it with hope and hospitality. And I wondered, sitting there, tears coming down my face, if the more visible ambassadors of American Christianity, concerned for Western civilization and the freedoms of the faithful, could learn something from their posture and build an alliance.
This is where Leadership Foundations comes in, in fact where I think you’ve already been existing. You all, as I’ve learned the last number of years, quietly understand how to bridge and even marry the roles of the context-shaping influencers at a macro level, to the trenches-serving doers at a local level. City by city, regional network by regional network, across race and ethnicity, ideological conviction and faith or non-faith. You understand that theories of cultural change are shifting, from top-down to bottom-up, from institutions to networks, from structured hierarchies to open ecosystems, from advice by outside expert to praxis by indigenous shepherd. And I’ve watched you live out the truth that love can never be abstracted – we’re touched by incarnational living and doing, less prescription from on high.
There’s a lot of despair and diagnosis of problems at the national level today, in our media, in all our Facebook feeds, but out in reality where I think most of you live and work, human beings are still human beings, and there really is a defiant civic unfurling going on, one that I see and hear as animated by a mischievously Christ-shaped truth that forgiveness is where all pride dies and all flourishing begins, that reconciliation is never impossible, that hospitality and respect for the other are the birthstool, and that it may be more important to care for the world than to rule it, to weave opposing factions together in shared projects than to win a bunch to a side.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of you and people like you the last few years, people I like to call community shepherds, those have mastered the skill of seeing others and knowing them deeply, of being vulnerable with their own wounds and hopes, and initiating relationships across difference and discomfort. There’s Pancho Argüelles in Houston, who has spent years accompanying a group of immigrant workers paralyzed by construction injuries to find wheelchairs, diapers, catheters, and other supplies they and others need to survive day-to-day-life. Men and women whose spines are literally broken beyond repair, but who, in a powerful twist that is the logic of the Kingdom, have become key players in the very spine of Houston’s recovery efforts post Hurricane Harvey. There’s Reverend Lew Powell, a black Episcopal deacon who goes up to Magalia in the mountains of northern California every day, to walk alongside people who’d much rather be cantakerous loners, rural white folks who have lost everything as a result of the awful Camp Fire that wiped their town and the neighboring Paradise, California off the face of the map last November 8, a year ago this Friday. There’s Dave Durocher in Salt Lake City, who, after 20+ years serving prison sentences is now leading the most effective regimen for moral change and habit formation in the country. There’s Michael Allen and David Dillon in Chicago, who with an unlikely band of pastors, business executives, philanthropists and social activists have gone all in a cross-racial, cross-neighborhood, urban-suburban collective impact strategy to reduce Chicago’s homicide rate and weave divided constituencies together. There’s Mack McCarter in Shreveport, who’s made initiating behaviors block by block transformative of the city’s neighborhoods. There’s Peyton and Andrew Hart in Indianapolis, whose school, The Oaks Academy, pairs transcendent ideals with the worthwhile friction of the most racially and socioeconomically diverse school in Indiana. There’s Jimmy Dorrell in Waco, whose Church Under the Bridge with the city’s homeless and mentally ill glows more with the fragrance of Christ than any cathedral I’ve ever visited. There’s Byron Sanders and Larry James in Dallas, whose friendship across the north-south, white-black divide in that city continues to transform them both even as it breaks itself open to close the opportunity gap for the city’s youth. And there’s Dave Hillis here, whose humble way of discerning the times is a model of 21st century leadership, certainly a model for me. And all of these folks, all of you realists who yet choose to act and serve, guide my steps more than the jeremiads of today’s pundits.
A couple of weeks ago I had the joy of learning from the painter Makoto Fujimura who some of you may know, whose visceral experience of trauma at Ground Zero on 9/11 has transformed his vocation as an artist. He brought a few of us together to consider what the ancient Japanese craft of Kintsugi might have to teach an age of fracture, most of us burned and weary from trying to build bridges in our respective fields at a time when no one wants to hear, “Love your enemies.” Kintsugi is a traditional way of mending broken pottery – it uses a shimmering gold lacquer to glue together fragments of plates and bowls that would otherwise be rendered useless. We sat at the feet of a kintsugi master who’s spent decades perfecting his craft, and I felt like I was watching the book of Isaiah come to life through clay and tender hands.
This kintsugi master advised us, “You have to look at the fractures for a long time before you understand what’s going on. Before any hope of healing can occur. Generations of tea master families have literally hung on to the fragments of the broken bowls, BEHELD these fragments, not despairing at their impossible future, but waiting in a patient, long-flickering hope. Not unlike fragile kinds of pottery, the traumas of a given land may be so deep you can’t fix them quickly. And indeed, Kintsugi is not just fixing something and re-using it. It’s a repairthat creates something new – something unprecedented that is actually far more valuable than it was before. Kintsugi goes beyond restoration, to a new creation. It proves that something can be more beautifully broken and mended than it was before it even broke.”
A few weeks ago I gave the same beginnings of this talk to a different audience of intellectuals and institutional leaders who I hoped to galvanize toward a fresh vision of Christian witness, in this case, embodied in a magazine called Comment. I talked about Nyack and the hope it gives me for faith in the West, I gave a bit of my personal story to explain why a place like Nyack cuts to the quick of every longing in my soul, and I tried to paint a fresh picture of the long table of elite next to commoner, black next to white, immigrant next to indigenous, handicapped next to able-bodied, and what the conditions for such a table might be. It went well the night of, frankly the folks who looked like me cried and stood up. It did feel like a graced moment from some transcendent future, a moment of new beginnings for our little magazine engine that could.
But in the intervening weeks I’ve realized that the path ahead is tricky. I believe in my bones that the people of God are not only called to be repairers of the breach, restorers of homes to dwell in, but we actually uniquely equipped to do so by the powers of grace that have been granted to us and now reside in us to extend to others. But we’re in an era that seems to have lost all hope, to say nothing of muscles, to give those across perceived lines of difference the benefit of the doubt, to consider one’s own rights a loss. Power and perceived power and privilege are the bogeymen of this moment, and they’re not imaginary foils. I’ve certainly been wrestling with my own inheritance of power that I am uncomfortable holding, to say nothing of owning and relinquishing. What unknown waters of confession and repentance lie ahead of ME, someone who really only desires to be a host for a different kind of conversation amongst a larger group of souls, but may be required to lead in the way of a humility I don’t now understand and suffer in ways I can’t predict? What might I have to give up, even as I try to build?
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. …Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
There’s a beautiful line in a new movie directed by Terrence Mallick you all should see when it comes out in December, called A Hidden Life. It features the life and choices of a man who lived in the Austrian countryside and resisted joining Hitlers’s army. Toward the end, as the protagonist gazes up at the bars of his prison, he writes to his wife these words, “When you’re no longer willing to survive at any price, a new light floods in.”
I think this is the wisdom that disarms the tribal temptations of our era. A letting go, a willful self-abnegation, a breaking up of self-preservation and a breaking open of self-surrender. I want to thank all of you who are part of the global network that is Leadership Foundations. In your way, you are embodying the foolish things – you labor at the cracks of the riven landscape in city after city, waiting and watching for opportunities to mend. Your method of sewing the sacred sector together in city after city is creating gold lines in a kintsugi model, a landscape which, viewed from the sky, become a portal to a New creation. A scarred creation, maybe, but more beautiful than any clean incompleteness of yesteryear.
And this is our road as people who have been marked by the scars of a man who lived 2,000 years ago, the healing scars of Jesus himself. We have no choice but to walk in His way, His healing, hard, long and redemptive way.