A Brief Introduction

Endeavoring to define myself outside of a "job title." I'm a nomad of sorts who fell in love with technology, activism, and helping others. I run a web & media consulting firm, have a blog specifically for activists & non-profits, and travel often. I love talking about theology, politics, and social change. I love doing something about it even more. I also like to be a well-rounded and fully present person. That's why I write here. Connect with me on twitter

Friday, December 05, 2008

To Be Or Not To Be

A key component of Soulforce is studying the life and works of Gandhi, King Jr., and other non-violent thinkers and actors. Gandhi famously advised his followers—and the world—to be the change that we wish to see. My friend Shane Claiborne writes that often the saints and world-changers end up relegated to stained glass windows and coffee table books (after they're executed or assassinated, of course). That we want to venerate them safely from a distance. "Be the change" has a nice ring to it, feels good, and makes for a catchy movie tagline. But what does it mean? Do I really want to be the change? The answer changes everything. If I don't, that's fine. I can live a life of detached isolation both from my own problems and the problems around me. There is something to be said for creating a comfortable life and enjoying it with loved ones. I won't fault anyone for deciding against being the change. I ask myself almost daily, is this the life that I want?

But if I decide to be the change I wish to see in the world—if I truly mean it—then everything must change. Being the change is more than believing in myself, or even surrounding myself with like-minded friends. "To be" is both a state of existence and also a verb and "being change" requires making a deliberate effort to do differently than I've done thus far. What does being the change look like?

For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. there was an inextricable element of sacrifice. "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable," he said, rather "every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." When I say "be the change you wish to see in the world," is this what I mean? Am I prepared to struggle and sacrifice for the cause of justice? Is this the choice that I want to make? How will I make those choices today?

In some ways, the answer seems clear to me. Gandhi reminds me that, "The sacrifice which causes sorrow to the doer of the sacrifice is no sacrifice. Real sacrifice lightens the mind of the doer and gives him a sense of peace and joy. The Buddha gave up the pleasures of life because they had become painful to him." My cable television, my iPod, my luxury studio apartment have all fallen away as they have become burdens too heavy to bear. I still make daily decisions: what to eat, whether to take the subway, when to upgrade my cellphone, what presents to give my friends and family. I even indulge in luxury—spending on trips, clothes, gifts to myself, upgrades to business class as I travel. I am by no means an ascetic (or even a full-time vegetarian), that would be too easy. Rather, I try, at the very least, to be conscious of the decisions that I make. May I never pontificate about being the change while remaining comfortably complacent. When I need to be comfortably complacent, I should own and in live in that space. I'm going to allow myself that choice, otherwise the choice to "be the change" is not really a choice.

There was a time when I made a choice to sacrifice two months of my life to participate in the Equality Ride. Or even to sacrifice two minutes of my life to send an email to a senator. These are choices for change. Being the change begins in simple decisions. Let me make no illusions, I'm writing this from the business class of an Acela Express train. It was a long weekend, holiday traffic would be rough if I were to take a bus, I have a full week of work ahead of me. I'm choosing to take the train—and a nice one at that. I'm returning to a house in New Jersey where I live with three friends (and pay only $400 each for rent)--I'm choosing to live in community. I commit some hours every week to work with Soulforce NYC, The Simple Way, and Marble Church. In some ways sacrifice, in others, the only way I want it to be--I'm choosing to work for justice. Being the change comes through choices.

As I continue to mull "what comes next" for advocacy around queer issues, I keep coming back to "be the change." I want to "fix" New York State, the Christian church, and the United States of America. Then I want to fix Iran, Africa, and the rest of the world. And I want to tackle poverty and all forms of oppression simultaneously. I want to scheme, to be the mastermind, and to get paid handsomely along the way! But that is not the advice I've been given. I've been asked by Gandhi to simply be the change. Similarly, Dr. Norris in his sermon on 1 John this past Sunday at Fourth Presbyterian Church advised us to hate the sins that we commit, and in doing so, actively repent of them. Be the change, in other words. I commit many sins and in my personal life, I'm going to take explicit stock of them and meditate on ways that I can turn around and change. I'm doing the same in my life as an activist.

  • Who have I taken for granted?
  • Who have I had too little faith in?
  • What assumptions do I continue to carry?
  • In my quest for equality, am I stepping on or silencing anyone (including those that I perceive as the opposition)?
  • What perspectives am I writing off? Is there anything to learn from them?
  • What voices am I not exposed to or am I ignoring?
  • How am I insulating or isolating myself from others?
  • How am I ostracizing others from myself?
At our meeting last week, Soulforce NYC asked ourselves many of these same questions and committed to chart a new path in our personal lives and in the life of the organization. I invite you to join us next week on Tuesday December 9 at 6:30 PM in Room 401 of the LGBT Center as we continue to bring our commitments to life and embody the vision of justice and equality for all.

May we never quote Gandhi, King, Jesus, or any other saint without choosing to follow their lead.


otrolado said...

I can very much relate to much of what you said. It's difficult actually taking action to make real the change you want to see.

I have been working on this a lot and attempting to find a healthy balance that allows me to be effective in change, but not do so out of guilt or a need to be a marytr. In trying to find this balance I came across this:

In the early 19th century, Reb Mendel of Stanov proposed an approach to ensure personal balance and happiness. He termed it CHeshbon HaNefesh, “an accounting of the soul.” Reb Mendel encourages us to look at thirteen personal qualities, notice how we are doing with them then embrace the opportunity to cultivate one - more deeply in our lives.

The thirteen principles, as expanded by Rabbi Goldie Milgram, are:
• Equanimity. Ability to live in balance.
• Tolerating Discomfort. Growing pains lead to knowing gains.
• Orderliness. Allocating time for living life fully with integrity.
• Decisiveness. Acting promptly when your reasoning is sure.
• Cleanliness. Modeling dignity in your ways and space.
• Humility. Know you will always have much to learn and more opinions than answers.
• Righteousness. Conducting your life such that you are trusted and respected.
• Economic Stability. Safeguarding enough resources for yourself to live without debt.
• Zeal. Living with gusto focused on purpose and care.
• Silence. Listening and receiving.
• Calmness. Giving your needs and thoughts gently while being respectful and clear.
• Truth. Speaking only what is fully confirmed in fact.
• Separation. Focus on each strand in its own time, avoid multi-tasking.
• Temperance. Eating and drinking, creating, serving, working, loving and worshipping in healthy measure.
• Deliberation. Pausing before acting, considering consequences, integrating heart and mind wisely.
• Modest Ways. Eschewing crude, lewd and boastful mannerisms and practices.
• Trust. Living in the spirit of knowing there is abundance in the universe, you were born for a reason, and you are in the Flow of All-being.
• Generosity. Finding satisfaction in making much possible for others.

It's an excerpt from a sermon at Temple Israel in Memphis and I thought you might find it interesting. Some of it is a little trite, but it is definitely worth mulling over.

Brian said...

Thank you for passing this along to me. Great resource. I'm going to investigate some more!

/*Google Analytics Tracking Code*/