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Spiritual Activism Conference

August 4, 2005
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Last week I promised to report on the half of the Spiritual Activism Conference that I managed to attend. On the whole it was a useful experience, with some terrific speakers and lots of music (something you don’t always get at a big event like this). Participants were encouraged to join one of about eight different thematic workgroups, and I chose the group on theory and practice of nonviolence. The convenor was Prof. Michael Nagler, emeritus professor of peace studies at UC-Berkeley and author of The Search for a Nonviolent Future. By the time my cold had blossomed into near-pneumonia, the nonviolence group was organizing itself into several subgroups to work on possible group actions, media relations/communications, personal transformation, etc., etc. It seemed like a good process for moving forward, and I’m hoping to hear about follow-up, next steps, and so forth.

In case you missed it on AlterNet, here’s a good essay on the conference by Oakland activist Van Jones. And the Tikkun website is supposed to provide some additional followup info, so check it out. There will be a second conference in Washington, DC next spring that will include visits to Congress — that is, assuming we still have one by then (will the executive branch try to apply the principle of eminent domain to the legislative branch? Shhhh….don’t even mention the idea!).

Probably the most productive part of the conference was the creation of more than 100 small groups consisting of no more than 10 people, grouped by geographical proximity. (It’s a good organizing principle, as the megachurch people have discovered — in Christian church history, the “ecclesiola in ecclesia”!) Our little group of folks, mostly from San Mateo County, is going to get together later this month to decide if and how we’d like to continue as part of the emerging Network of Spiritual Progressives. If you’re interested or know someone who might be, send an email to nspsmc@hotmail.com. This is an interfaith effort that also includes the “spiritual but not religious” among us, so everybody’s welcome. The broad goals of the network are:

1. Challenge the misuse of God by the Right to justify miltarism, dismantling of social justice and ecological programs, and assaults on the rights of women, gays and lesbians.

2. Challenge the anti-spiritual biases in some parts of “the Left.”

3. Support a New Bottom Line of kindness, generosity, ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe to replace the dominant ethos of selfishness and materialism.

(OK, so it’s an ambitious program — but it’s never going to happen if we do nothing.) We’ll see what happens after what a friend calls “workshop high” wears off. I’m hopeful!

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