Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Meditation on Dr. King and his Mentor, Dr. Thurman

One of the individuals portrayed in the film Selma, Diane Nash, spoke at the White House Celebration of Music From The Civil Rights Movement in February 2009. One comment she made there helped to put me on the path to Fellowship Church. She said the point of the movement was “reconciliation.” That word, reconciliation, rang a bell and prompted me to realize that for 45 years I had forgotten that principle and had been driven by anger, not love.

In the speech Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave at the end of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, which moved me profoundly as I stood in the crowd, he said:

That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would prey upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality…. And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.

Unfortunately, it seemed to me, the film Selma did not capture that philosophy, which Dr. Howard Thurman helped shape.

In Dr. Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, a brilliant self-help manual for activists that Dr. King reportedly carried with him when he traveled, Dr. Thurman writes “To love such an enemy requires reconciliation… It involves confession of error…. To love those of the household he must conquer his own pride.” And Dr. Thurman points out that “too much pride on either side [makes it difficult] to make amends…. The underprivileged man must himself be status free. It may be argued that his sense of freedom must come first…. Love is possible only between two freed spirits.” By “status free,” he meant transcending our social roles and relating person-to-person.

Thurman insists we need “an overall technique for loving one’s enemy…, a discipline, a method, a technique, as over against some form of wishful thinking or simple desiring,... a technique of implementation.” The technique he proposes is “the attitude of respect for personality,” which requires us to “put aside the pride of race and status which would have caused [us] to regard [ourselves] as superior….[and declare] ‘I am stripped bare of all pretense and false pride. The man in me appeals to the man in you.”

When “we emerge into an area where love operates,” we say, as did Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you.” We judge our own deeds and confess our trespasses. “[We] must recognize fear, deception, hatred, each for what it is,” Dr. Thurman states. “Once having done this, [we] must learn how to destroy these or to render [ourselves] immune to their domination.”

Yet, as we saw indicated here at Fellowship Church last week in the film about Grace Lee Boggs, most political activists don’t engage in that kind of critical self-examination, which is essential to nurturing the nonjudgmental humility that Dr. Thurman affirms. Most activists are too busy trying to mobilize others to do what they, the activists, want them to do. They focus on the outer world and neglect the inner world.

Not even  faith-based and faith-rooted organizations really talk about the need for critical self-examination. For example, in the call for a strategy conference late last year, Michael Lerner, founder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, said nothing about the need for self-improvement rooted in acknowledging mistakes and resolving to avoid them. To the contrary, he said, "Nor are we writing you to suggest personal repentance." I found that statement shocking, but par for the course.

I’ve discussed this issue many times with faith-based leaders and activists and organized some workshops to promote that commitment. But so far I mainly see a focus on external issues and neglect of internal issues. Some projects train activists to work on themselves individually. But I know of no political organization that facilitates all of their members to support one another in open-ended self-development as defined by each member.

I envision user-friendly, easily replicated templates that like-minded individuals could use to provide mutual support -- so that we could better transform our social system. The first step, it seems to me, is to establish a new primary purpose for our society:  to “rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society,” as Dr. King put it. Once that new mission statement were affirmed, we could better reform all of our institutions, our culture, and ourselves to serve that purpose.

With that positive thrust, we who are working on so many different issues could better overcome our fragmentation by occasionally uniting to support one another on timely, top priority issues. By uniting, we could accomplish much more together than we can fragmented, focused on building our own organization. That vision seems clear and convincing to me. But so far I’ve found no organization engaged in that kind of holistic work and have been unable to initiate one.

I trust, however, that some day soon holistic politics will crystallize. It may be just around the corner. As James Baldwin said:

A day will come when you will trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. We will trust each other. I do believe, I really do believe in the New Jerusalem. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet ready to pay.
In the meantime, I plan to stop pushing my vision, ask God to take the weight of the world off my shoulders, try to become more humble, take better care of myself, and learn better how to “love [my] neighbor directly, clearly, permitting no barrier between,” as affirmed by Dr. Thurman.

Then, before I die, perhaps I’ll be a foot soldier in a global movement to transform our global society into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of the entire Earth Community.

Thank you for listening.


Presented by Wade Lee Hudson as the Meditation at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, Sunday, January 18, 2015.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Leonard Roy Frank Has Died

Leonard Roy Frank (1932-2015)
Monotheist, Vegan, Gandhian, Social Reformer, Writer,
Opponent of Involuntary Psychiatry, and
Collector of Quotations
He led exactly the life he wanted to lead.
Leonard Roy Frank, my best friend, died suddenly sometime the night of January 15. Though he had suffered with a cold for a few days, otherwise he was healthy. He had apparently fallen after having what the medical examiner said was probably an “event.” The cause of death may not be declared for several weeks.
A large number of tributes to Leonard have poured in and are being consolidated on the Mad in America Tribute page.
The memorial service will be held at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, 2041 Larkin Street (near Broadway), San Francisco, on Saturday, January 31, 10:30 AM. There will be a reception afterwards with a light vegan lunch provided. Please email Wade Hudson <> if you plan to attend.
Following the reception, we plan to invite his friends to visit Leonard’s nearby apartment, where visitors will be able to take books from his large library. (His books on psychiatry may be donated to a nonprofit.)
Parking in the area is difficult, with a two-hour time limit. The #19 Polk bus that is due to stop on the north side of Market Street near Civic Center BART at 9:50 AM goes to Polk and Broadway. Nearby parking garages are:  Lombardi Sports Parking Garage, 1600 Jackson Street, $12.00 max; Old First Garage, 1725 Sacramento Street, $10.00 max; Ace Parking, 1776 Sacramento Street, $25.00 max.
Contributions in memory of Leonard may be made to: Mind Freedom International and/or the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples.
If you want to buy flowers for the service, you can call Polk Street Florist, 415-441-2868, to order them.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Reform the System with Love and Power: A Call for Action

Power without love is reckless and abusive, 
and love without power is sentimental and anemic. 
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The system is broken. Our society appears to benefit a few, but those superficial gains are devoid of deep meaning. Moreover, most people are excluded. Worse yet, the whole system may collapse soon as society becomes increasingly top-heavy and destructive to the environment. For those reasons, we urgently need to build a nonviolent movement to reform our society fundamentally and comprehensively into a compassionate community dedicated to the common good.

To be successful, that movement must incorporate the dynamics of both love and power. Love backed by political power holds great potential as a source for social change. And political power rooted in love can promote economic fairness, care for the environment, social justice, and democracy more effectively than can efforts motivated primarily by anger.

Currently, a broad range of activist organizations do good work on a variety of important issues. Those projects are generally based on a similar set of humanistic values. But their impact has been diminished by widespread fragmentation. Those many organizations rarely support one another on timely priorities.

To help nurture the greater collaboration that is needed, it could  help to compose a brief vision statement that responds to the following questions:
1.      How can we best describe and analyze "the system"?
2.      What role do individuals play in maintaining the system?
3.      How do we need to change the system?
4.      What long-term strategies can help build a popular movement to achieve that goal?
5.      What short-term steps can we take toward that end?

By creating a vision statement based on those questions, we could affirm our core beliefs and make clear how they support a commitment that we can sustain over time. The ideas presented here are offered for consideration by anyone who wants to work on a declaration that articulates how we can reform our self-perpetuating, fundamentally flawed social system.

References to “the system” are common, and people have an intuitive sense of what the phrase means. When Elizabeth Warren declared at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, “The system is rigged,” she received a standing ovation. More generally, the percentage of voters who believe the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves increased from 29 percent in 1964 to 79 percent in 2013. That same percentage is also convinced that corruption in government is widespread. In fact, most Americans report they’re so upset with the “system” that they “would carry a protest sign for a day,” if the opportunity arose. Strong majorities favor major changes in national policy and believe that grassroots people power is needed to achieve them. Yet, despite all that support for change, there is no consensus among activists about how to reinvent our social system. We need to fill that void and build broad agreement on the underlying issues.

“The System” and How We Can Reform It

No one group controls “the system,” yet it is self-perpetuating. Our major institutions -- including our economy, government, media, entertainment, schools, and religious communities -- our culture, and we ourselves as individuals are all interconnected within it. Each of those elements supports all the others.  

The system’s primary purpose is to preserve the existing social ladder. As those who prosper pass on their advantages to their children, that ladder become more difficult to climb.
The system corrupts our culture and dehumanizes our people. No one escapes its impact, and everyone reinforces it. In particular, our hyper-competitive culture encourages harsh judgments of others and undermines our ability to collaborate with them. Instead, we learn to either dominate or submit.

Because the various elements of the system are intertwined, the only way we can transform it is to steadily change each element in it. We have to change our institutions, our culture, and ourselves.

Before undertaking those specific changes, however, we need to lay out a broad vision of lasting social transformation with a new mission statement that affirms a primary commitment to the common good of the entire Earth Community. We must make clear that we reject the proposition that climbing the ladder of success is our highest calling.

Becoming a Better Person

A primary objective for anyone committed to change for the common good, shared by many people, is to become a better person. To achieve that end, we need to more fully:
  • Treat others as we want to be treated.
  • Love ourselves as we love others.
  • Avoid both selfishness and self-sacrifice.
  • Respect ourselves so we can better respect others.
  • Be productive and happy, have fun, experience joy, be of service to others, relieve suffering, and advance human evolution.
  • Appreciate intangible spiritual realities, ponder or revere the mystery that energizes and structures the universe, and seek harmony with Mother Nature.
  • Be honest, courageous, humble, free, generous, disciplined, responsible, firm, and flexible.

To strengthen ourselves and “be the change,” we need to honestly evaluate our mistakes and accomplishments, our strengths and weaknesses, while drawing on mutual support and peer learning. In this process, there can be great value in merely verbalizing the results of our own introspection to supportive allies who understand us. At the same time, of course, we must leave it to individuals seeking self-improvement to define their own goals. They don’t need to be told by others how they should change.

Overall, self-development efforts are most fruitful when they are intentional and consistent, rather than occasional and haphazard. To facilitate personal growth, we need to develop new methods for providing mutual support. One option, for example, is to design formats for soulful conversations that others can readily adopt with little or no special training or expert facilitation. In such groups, members can set aside time to dig deep, acknowledge mistakes, and consider how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. By developing user-friendly templates that can be easily utilized by small, member-run sharing circles, these tools can spread widely. That would make it possible for large numbers of activists to engage more fully in steady self-improvement, and also increase our own effectiveness by helping us improve our ability to relate meaningfully to others.

Expanding the Activist Network to a Global Scale

If we can reach agreement on a long-term vision statement, small groups of endorsers could gather regularly to break bread and enjoy one another’s company. They could share a cultural experience that engages the heart, such as listening to a song, and report on both their self-development efforts and their political actions. Such circles could in turn attract new members through contagious happiness, and also occasionally gather in regional, national, and international gatherings.

If we tap our inner strength and courage, we can join with others to leave the world a better place for future generations -- in part by impacting national policies in our own country and also by supporting the efforts of people in other countries to do the same in their nation. Changing America’s policies must be our first concern, however, as they are often a principal cause of the injustices suffered by our fellow humans in other nations. We can help end injustice and prevent future ones by supporting efforts to eradicate their root causes.

By continuously expanding an interconnected activist network, and reaching out to the entire world, we can more completely ensure that:
  • Everyone has healthy food, clean air, drinkable water, peace and quiet, economic security, a safe environment, rewarding social interactions, good friends, a healthy family, ongoing learning experiences, and a fair chance to realize his or her best potentialities.
  • Working-age adults who are able and willing to work can find a good job at a living wage.
  • Private businesses serve the public interest, treat their workers fairly, and refrain from damaging the environment.
  • Workers are fully able to organize.
  • Everyone is treated equally in the eyes of the law, while law and order are upheld.
  • Legitimate authority is respected, but officials who abuse their power are held accountable.
  • Individuals have a right to privacy as long as they don’t violate the rights of others.
  • The principles of nonviolence, reconciliation, empowerment, partnership, cooperation, and collaboration are promoted throughout society.

With an equal emphasis on both short-term objectives and long-term goals, and a balanced focus on simultaneous personal, social, cultural, and political change, we can win victories that will build momentum for social change on a global scale, while recognizing that no victory or defeat is final. Such an approach, moreover, will enable us to inspire concerned individuals who want to do more than “tinker,” as well as those who want to see results.

It’s important to keep in mind that many people are passive in pursuing change not because they don’t want to act, but because others are passive. We must break that downward spiral with an upward spiral. As we steadily mobilize like-minded people, other concerned individuals will also be encouraged to participate. Then, by pushing for realistic positive change to advance the common good of the Earth Community, we can promote evolutionary revolution, meet neglected needs, build our collective power, and restructure our deteriorating society into a compassionate and truly democratic community.