In the United States, where I live, a highly contested presidential election is underway. Candidates with widespread popular appeal have been swept away by a bombastic former reality-television star and a decades-experienced Washington insider whom many see as qualified, but uninspiring. Divisions appear to be deepening: Much of the U.S.’s working class is in an uproar, the middle class is disappearing; upper class Establishment guardians are wondering what went wrong. Black, Latino, and Middle Eastern populations feel unsafe and frequently used by the political process, while Millennials feel disillusioned and might stay away from the polls in droves.
Nationwide, our country’s mood feels fractious and in turmoil.
I contrast this with my lived experience locally in my home city of Raleigh, North Carolina.
It’s Wednesday, and my Community Supported Agriculture subscription box just arrived at my doorstep from Papa Spuds, delivering seasonal greens and meat from six local farms. Tonight I’ll drink a bottle of Harvest Time Ale, brewed by Big Boss Brewery precisely four miles from my home. Next week, I’ll be meeting with a small leadership circle of friends at Videri, a chocolate factory twelve minutes away downtown. Believe it or not, it’s one of three competing chocolatiers making local chocolate increasingly enjoyed throughout the city. Five years ago, a Starbucks went out of business downtown as they weren’t able to compete with the growing, innovative local coffee shop scene downtown. Raleigh restaurant designer Ashley Christensen is about to open her sixth successful concept restaurant downtown, which will doubtless host creatives for First Friday, our monthly all-pervasive street festival where local storefront businesses support local visual arts, performance, music and even fashion. Rival gangs the Bloods and the Crips recently negotiated an historic truce as they seek to make their neighborhoods a safer place, and downtown, Love Wins Ministries – founded by my friend Hugh Hollowell – continues to reveal the humanity and solidarity of our homeless population.
This isn’t to say all is perfect: Our state legislature recently passed HB2, a bill restricting small business freedoms and the rights of transgendered people to choose which restrooms best serve them; racial tensions and poverty make their presence felt here, too. But our sense of hope is also palpable: Many in our community are mobilizing into the statewide Moral Monday movement, giving voice to woman, sexual minorities, people of color, working-classes, teachers, health providers, spiritual leaders and other change agents working on the ground for more responsive, proactive statewide governance. In the past several years, we’ve drawn crowds of 10,000+ for weekly teach-in pro-testifyings during legislative season, and drew over 100,000 for our most recent awareness-raising march.
Local consciousness is alive and well in Raleigh, North Carolina – just like it is in cities around the country as Millennials come of age and increasingly want to create culture rather than merely consume it. My own generation – Generation X – and many Boomers are following suit.
This pro-activity is showing up on a global level too. Crowd-sourced nonprofits, microfinance, ethical tourism and sustainable entrepreneurship are giving birth to a grassroots global outlook where people around the world are developing increasingly organic ties with others around the world. The celebrity-driven approach of Big Business and Big Philanthropy is beginning to give way to a more distributed, decentralized approach to global engagement.
This isn’t to say that the road to rooted localism and globalization is all sunshine and roses. Local politics are often as fraught as national politics, if not more so, riddled with cronyism and back-room deals. And “globalization” these days is virtually a synonym for the encroachment of the many-headed hydra of oligarchy fuelling Big Finance, Big Pharma, Big Agribusiness, and the Military-Industrial Complex. All of this “Big” is crushing the “little people,” widening the wealth gap between the 1% and everyone else.
As we reach the midpoint of the 21st century’s second decade, the promise and perils of globalism stand in ever-sharper relief. As futurist Jeremy Rifkin observes, we are in a race between two opposing forces – entropy and empathy. New technologies fuel greater connection, but also drain more resources. Which will reach the finish line of human potential as we close out this decade – and this century? The exhilarating and sober truth is, we get to decide.
Two Kinds of Power
Globalism as a powerful force for our planet’s future is a given; the question is, will be it power-over or power-through?
Power-over is power exercised by the elite few, allegedly “in the interests of” the masses. It’s the conventional form of power we’ve witnessed from the ruling classes since the advent of complex agriculture and empire some 6,000-8,000 years ago.
Power-through is distributed power, built by consensus and wielded by skilled, community-chosen leaders for the common good. Power-through is the source that energizes all true community, belonging, and social change.
At Presence, we believe that power-through is the practical fruit of authentic spirituality, Spirit being the source of all genuine power, working through ourselves, each other, and our environment to create beauty, truth, and goodness for us all. As we join the circle of what ecologist and alternative economist Paul Hawken names as today’s most vast and powerful movement, the “movement of movements,” we believe we can encourage power-through by working for change on three levels:
- Direct Action
There is a growing coalition of spiritual communities, neighborhood coalitions, online hubs, nonprofits and NGOs creating powerful alliances in these three areas. It’s the first that we see as the key to fuelling the latter two, for the stories we tell determine the actions we take and the policies we create. Historically, our culture’s narrative understandings were determined by nation-states and world religions. In the 21st century, both of these forces are weakening and new storytellers are vying for the privilege of telling the next Great Stories to capture our imaginations and fuel social transformation.
At Presence, we are looking to address the void being left by the growing dissolution of conventional religion. Just like national politics can feel so fraught, while local and global community look so promising, so too can our religious narratives look menacing when tied to the equivalent of ‘national’ level power structures.
But what if our most sacred stories weren’t inevitably tied to Big Religion? What if they could bloom – locally and globally – in a trans-narrative space that both honors their local specificity while pointing beyond themselves to the Big Ideas of faith, hope and love?
In a world where more and more global Millennials are checking ‘None’ on the religious affiliation box, a spiritual, trans-religious understanding is needed if our sacred stories are going to escape being used as swords and instead be transformed into plowshares.
Presence is taking a loving, reverent, and bold new look at our own sacred Scriptures – what are often referred to as the Hebrew Bible and New Testament of the early Christian movement. We’re reading this canon’s teachings, experience, genealogies and history – its understanding of the Divine in poetry and prophecy – in a way that takes it seriously without weaponizing it.
To put it briefly, we’re seeing our Holy Book as containing symbolic language revealing the spiritual meaning of temporal events, on our planet and in our history. As we let go of culture-war-inducing, binary, either/or thinking, we’re discovering that sacred Scripture speaks powerfully through a developmental lens, showing us a powerful picture of how our forbearers experienced the divine. In stories of Eve and Adam, Miriam and Moses, and Mary and Jesus, we’re discovering developmental seeds of an open-ended human future – where conventional religion is transcended and reality is co-created with God.
Through our involvement with exciting new networks like 1GOD, we’re witnessing more and more people opt out of the pre-packaged pain that identification with role-based religious, corporate, and nationalistic identities can bring. In its place, we’re seeing planetary patriots rise up – those with empathetic concern for the whole joyfully inhabiting the sweet specificity of their particular place. “Think local, act globally” is taking on rebooted meaning through the stirrings of Spirit – in a neighborhood and cosmos near you.
How are you ready to manifest planetary change?
For more in-depth resources exploring narrative change and personal + social transformation, please visit Presence TV