Changing Consciousness

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, Feb. 7-13, 2010

Last week I was involved in some important consciousness changing discussions.

On Wednesday and Thursday, January 27-28, I participated in an intimate Retreat focused on the role of informal leadership in individual and community transformation.

The Retreat was at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a center committed to creating a world based on Love. Forgiveness and Compassion. This commitment calls upon us to relate to one another and to the world with our hearts and not just with our heads. I view it as an important step toward embracing a new philosophy that frees us from the scientific rationalism of the industrial epoch and therefore empowers us to create a more human post-industrial civilization.

At the Wednesday night gathering I told the story of how grassroots leaders in Detroit, believing in our hearts and minds that another world is both necessary and possible, have been transforming our city from a national and international symbol of the devastation of de-industrialization into a 21st century City of Hope. One result is that the 2nd USSF is bringing 15,-20,000 people to Detroit in June.

Thursday morning began with the group singing a "Sweet Honey in the Rock" spiritual led by Elandria Williams from the Highlander Center in Tennessee. Local leaders then told stories of their work.

For example, Sharif Abdullah, author of Creating a World that Works for All, described an incident at a firm where he has been a consultant. A white male worker, walking past an African American woman worker smoking a cigarette outside the building, suddenly came up to her and struck the cigarette from her mouth. She could have responded by accusing him of racism and sexism. However, recalling Sharif's challenge that we strive to relate to one another as members of the human race, she decided to probe further and discovered that he had just learned from his doctor that he had lung cancer and was reacting not to her but to the cigarette fumes.

Friday night I participated in a discussion at the Boggs Center with members of Word & World, a group which seeks to renew the church as a movement struggling for justice by bridging the gulf between Seminary, Sanctuary, and the Streets. The purpose of Friday night's discussion was to help Word & World prepare a Call to Spiritual Leadership at the 2nd USSF.

We started out with a "fishbowl," consisting of community activist pastors Detroiter Bill Wylie-Kellerman and Nelson Johnson from Greensboro. N.C.; Claudia Horwitz from the Stone House Center for Spiritual Life and Strategic Action; and myself.

Our "fishbowl" explored the distinction and connection between "human time, " e.g. going to work, doing the laundry, cooking dinner, and "God's time,"when we share and renew our Faith in the power within us to create the world anew.

Speaking from the larger group, Jim Perkinson, Ecumenical Theological Seminary professor, suggested that the division between the two times could be bridged by Sabbath Economics, an economics based on sharing and having "enough" rather than on accumulation and exploitation.

Young street people. e.g. King Jorge of the Greensboro Almighty Latin Kings & Queens and Yusef Shakur of Detroit Urban Networks, then spoke passionately of the need to create community safety and unity by bringing the neighbor back into the 'hood. They were joined by Wesley Morris, a young man from the Greensboro Beloved Community Center who emphasized the importance of seeing with our hearts and not only with our eyes.

These conversations assume a new significance in the wake of the Massachusetts election, the Supreme Court decision validating corporate financing of elections, President Obama's frantic efforts to defuse the anger over bankster bailouts and his State of the Union speech, which together reveal that Wall St. and Washington have lost all moral authority.

In this crisis, which is both institutional and moral, conversations like these help to nurture the transformative leadership needed to help us change both ourselves and our world.