Reflections on essentials: a talking paper about context, collegiality and the future
David Dunn, January 21, 2007
The striking thing about last year was the deafening silence: the absence of public comment on the departure of ICA's first professional manager last June, the muted response to the lay off of ICA USA's senior program staff last fall and the conspicuous absence of illuminating communication from ICA's board of directors. With a few notable recent exceptions, there has been little public reflection from the intentional community that surrounds the ICA. A contextual vacuum like this invites wild speculation. My candidates for the most creative explanations range from shell shock to yawning indifference, i.e., from "everyone has been struck dumb" to "everyone has discovered how bored they are with the ICA 33 years on."
As I cast about for explanations, Burna Dunn recalled The Year of Magical Thinking in which Joan Didion wrote about grief and illusion after her husband's death. Didion said in essence, "I saved his shoes. I knew he was never coming back, but I saved his shoes." Saving the infrastructure in order to save an organization is a little like saving a dead man's shoes. The "thinking out loud" that follows is an attempt to wrestle free of the illusions that keep me from moving toward a practical vision for the future and to move through the grief that keeps me fixated on the past.
How can a conversation that has to do with passionate matters of vocation, livelihood and vision proceed constructively amidst sticky illusions and fresh grief?
Intentions and stipulations.
The distance and perspective that make observation, introspection and honest reflection possible have been slow in coming. I've been biting my tongue ever since the weekend of the ICA board meeting in Chicago last June when Elizabeth Houde's departure became inevitable. But what has become painfully apparent is that the only way to move forward is to be in touch with both interior and exterior reality and in communication with both my confidants and my community. The way life is includes both the psychological and the sociological and the more inclusive the context the clearer the sight. In the interest of full transparency, I need to make four pointed stipulations.
First, I share responsibility for the poor financial and organizational health of the ICA and have no desire to point a finger of blame at anyone. We have always said that people are not the problem and that the contradictions that foil our best intentions are in the structures, systems, patterns and images in which we all participate.
Second, I had access to the same information as the ICA's board of directors for the last five years and neither saw the coming implosion nor offered an alternative model. We have also always said that we move forward on the basis of a model, but while it may be said that my models for a new ICA USA were both too little and too late, they were mostly beside the point.
Third, when I met Elizabeth Houde last fall I said, "Our conversation should be framed in the context of my own succession journey." I said as much to Suzann Eisenberg Murray, the board's transition consultant. I had made a new life decision more than a year ago and was more than ready to take a new relationship to ICA.
Fourth, I am aware that I am writing about matters that touch on the lives of people whom I revere as colleagues and nothing that I say should be interpreted as belittling their labors or discounting their aims. "Those who remain" on the board and staff have perhaps a greater spirit challenge than those of us who were shown the door on October 16.
What posture will allow us to share responsibility without self condemnation and to be constructively provocative without arrogance or presumption?
Cracks in the universe and the death of illusions.
The only way I can conceive of moving forward, so early on, is to be brutally honest, to claim joint responsibility, to attempt utter transparency and to seek diligently for larger truth in the events of the last year. Whereas twelve months ago I was involved in thinking about how we would create ICA's comprehensive succession plan, that task has been turned on its head. The question is no longer "How do we pass on the accumulated human wisdom of the last three decades?" but "How do we recover the context and practices that once animated the ICA?" Nine months ago I was involved in creating a mechanism for preserving and re-appropriating the archives. Today I no longer trust the institutional guardians of our heritage and the future of The Archive seems uncertain at best. Six months ago I was planning to record oral histories at a fall gathering of our extended network. Today it is hard to imagine such a gathering ever taking place.
What has crashed and burned, however, is not an illusion of indispensability or tenure but rather an illusion about the context of employment. I had supposed that I was employed on behalf of an intentional community and that that larger community provided a functional context for my employment. Further, I supposed that this wider network would be enlisted to help create a strategy for succession and transformation.
Instead, all I have heard from the board are cheerful phrases about a bright future, while, at least from this side of the bed, what I mostly hear are the death rattles of a dying patient. I can make the case that the ICA has been moribund for nearly two decades and that the forces of entropy have finally and mercifully brought the organization to this final stasis. There have been heroic achievements during these years, but the ICA as an organization and as a human system is not one of them.
What got disconnected from what? How could we have come to this?
The accumulated consequences of dozens of oversights and entanglements have led to this moment. We never quite decided whether we were creative nomads or persevering settlers. We engaged a movement to discern and implement a social mission and then largely abandoned the movement in our quest for professionalism and sustainability. We began as an intentional community experimenting with the unity of spirit and action, the redeeming benefit of social justice and the power of voluntary action. We became an organization of individuals following their own passions, whose parts never added up to a sustainable whole. We professed a concern for the human factor in world development but never quite got the human factor under control in our own thinking, organization and action. We became skilled in helping others take new directions in their daily lives but found it impossible to discern necessity with sufficient clarity to trump propensity in our own.
There are certainly other internal contradictions that could be named, just as there are untold external accomplishments to be celebrated. The overall result, however, was the emergence of individual creative movements at the periphery with little connection to reality at the center. William Butler Yeats comes to mind:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre?The falcon cannot hear the falconer;?Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;?Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,?The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere?The ceremony of innocence is drowned;?The best lack all conviction, while the worst?Are full of passionate intensity.?Surely some revelation is at hand;?Surely the Second Coming is at hand.?The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out?When a vast image out of "Spiritus Mundi"?Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert?A shape with lion body and the head of a man,?A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,?Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it?Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.?The darkness drops again; but now I know?That twenty centuries of stony sleep?Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,?And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,?Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
-- Yeats, "The Second Coming"
One way to draw the sum at the bottom line is to say that without a center, the ICA-as-an-organization had no way to look beyond the surface and the moment. While inadvertently ignoring the deeps and the future--minding our finances, after all, is one way we insure our futures--we finally noticed that the reason we were running out of steam was that we were running out of coal. I had been running out of steam for at least a year before Betsy Houde arrived on the scene. She and I were just getting up a head of steam when she was gone. But it took the whack upside the head of the lay off to finally discover what was going on for me.
In early October this past year, I might have assumed that a lay off would dramatically alter my life context. Instead, the only thing that has been altered since October is my perspective. In fact, from the outside looking in, my context has become dramatically clearer. Rather than being personally invested in the future of the ICA, I've discovered that what I am personally invested in is the future of the Ecumenical Institute and the Order Ecumenical. The ICA was, after all, the face with which we turned to the world to implement the mission of the Ecumenical Institute, an institution called into being by the second assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Evanston, Illinois in 1954. The ICA, which was not incorporated until 1973, was an strategy of our own invention. The tail has been wagging the dog all these years.
My sense is that the days of the Ecumenical Institute, the Order Ecumenical and the Institute of Cultural Affairs were numbered when we made the turn to the world. We turned to the world as a largely western, Christian movement impatient with the historic church's inadequate response to social injustice. We retired the Ecumenical Institute to the status of 'Affiliate' in our annual audit and relegated the name and program to the file cabinets. We "took the Order out of being" fifteen or so years later, having become a dramatically more heterogeneous, eclectic experiment in intentional community. Were we afraid of being consumed and ultimately destroyed if we seriously took on the challenge of embodying spirituality in action in the context of a secular, global age? In retrospect, it seems clear to me that by 1988 the Order had largely lost any sense of coherence as a functioning body and that during the ensuing 18 years, while the concept of a global order of secular religious was hung out to dry, the ICA became increasingly disconnected from any practical sense of its work as an instrument of a spirit movement.
How could this loss of intention and energy have happened and why is this an important question?
The mischief of paradigms and the remnants of heaven Many of us came to the ICA with a leadership perspective articulated by a dynamically enlarging community of faith, i.e., the Ecumenical Institute and the curriculum of religious and cultural studies, and the Order Ecumenical and the corporate lifestyle of spirit depth and social engagement. The posture of creative global responsibility that this movement discerned in the Judeo-Christian tradition turned out to be a way of life that resonated deeply with more than just those of us from the West who trace our faith heritage back through Jesus to Abraham. When we "turned to the world" in the early '70s, however, we launched into a sort of schizophrenic period during which we increasingly thought of innocent human suffering as a challenge requiring social innovation but largely divorced from human spirituality and of human development as a challenge of training largely divorced from intentional community.
I believe that we acted out and fulfilled a paradigmatic story that in a variety of forms has operated at the heart of our work from the beginning--the story of incarnation and ascension. In the story of the incarnation, the Lamb leaves the throne, descends to earth, does the will of His Father, and ascends back to the plane of the eternal. In the story of pioneering leadership that echoed this ancient mythology, the elite come from the Abyss, step out onto the world stage, do the necessary Deed in History, and return to the Mystery that is the source of all life. Joining the order, getting assigned overseas to do human development, and returning home sounds suspiciously analogous. Each of these stories is a subtle remnant of the self-contradictory paradigm we were trying so hard to transcend, the two-story universe.
These stories imply a movement in space between two worlds--the world of communities and history and a world of spirit and eternity. We might even add movement between the "developed" and the "developing" world. Neither story successfully captures the image of a movement that takes place over time within relationships, i.e., a simultaneous participation in the holistic reality of embodied spirit and animated community, of the other world within this world. The focus on movement across space and the rejection of permanence over time was perhaps inevitable for a movement caught between paradigms. The two-story universe fostered long-lasting institutions because the perpetual existence of an earthly institution was required by the eternal commission from the "founder." Living and acting in a single-story world with an unconscious two-story mindset, however, isolates both eternity (and the intention of operating in perpetuity) and spirit (and the capacity for profound communion with all beings) from the realm of daily thought and action.
The single story world is not without it own widely recognized transcendent contexts, i.e., for businesses the intertwined aims of creating value and making profit and for organizations the intertwined aims of effective service and expanding impact. Institutions are built by mortals to pursue these aims in perpetuity and well run organizations, businesses and agencies reinvent themselves generation after generation. When institutions forget their transcendent context within history they forget to reinvent themselves and wither away.
Because all three institutions that our movement invented (EI/OE/ICA) were creations of this latent two-story paradigm--descent-mission-return had simply become invent-engage-withdraw--our history is not surprising. The Ecumenical Institute was relegated to the file cabinets and the annual audit early in its career. The Order Ecumenical, for a variety of reasons to be sure, but I believe primarily because we lost our context and our nerve, actually called itself out of being and dissolved its corporate self, i.e., the institutional body that makes continuity of mission possible beyond the founding generation.
In this project-oriented context, thinking of ourselves as a "mission from God to history" became just a developmental stage that we outgrew. Without some sense of grounding in embodied human spirituality the ICA as an institution was left to draw energy from the passions of individual staff rather than from a profound common mission that releases energy when a movement discerns and embodies the activity of God in history.
How do we find the wherewithal to replace the self-defeating image of temporary existence or the illusion of eternal existence with a commitment to continual reinvention?
The question of context precedes the question of mission.
If the board of directors or any of the rest of us is "at a loss" for how to proceed, I'm inclined to believe that it is a loss of a workable context that has shrouded the future in fog and strewn the path with rocks. In order to find a point of view that helps us see more than two car lengths ahead, I'm trying to conceive of a context large enough and open enough to let in light. If we're to figure out what to do next, we need to hold reality up to very bright and penetrating light. We need to create a new context that gives us the eyes to discern whether we are trying to reinvent the vehicle for an old strategy that is now an anachronism or are seeking a new perspective that makes it exciting and daring to think of mission that continues to evolve past the founding generation. The most important conversation now is not "How do we save the ICA?" but rather "What, if anything, about the ICA needs to be saved?" If the ICA's coming up short has to do with the completion of its mission, the resulting conversation will be vastly different than if the ICA's coming up short has to do with having lost touch with the practical imagination that makes a future mission conceivable.
One practical step in reframing a larger context is to recall that we need to be mindful of two distinct and separate corporations: the Ecumenical Institute (obliquely referred to in the annual audit as the "Affiliate") and the Institute of Cultural Affairs. Over time the Ecumenical Institute was relegated to the file cabinets as the owner of the property at 4750 N Sheridan Road, Chicago, while the Institute of Cultural Affairs developed into the primary vehicle for implementing our mission "in the marketplace." I think of it as a process in which the mask with which we turned to the world put on overalls and work gloves and went forth to transform the world.
We have now come to the strange state of affairs in which the most valuable corporate asset is owned by a paper entity mentioned annually in the audit while the visible entity--the ICA--has been diligently going in half a dozen different directions, consuming its tangible assets while both board and staff looked on. What makes the recent events so maddening is that this self-consumption was accomplished in broad daylight while we all went about our business as if nothing untoward were happening. The only way I can account for my sense of having been fast asleep or in the thrall of alien beings is by observing that the intelligence of the whole was so far less than the sum of its parts, it had become self-defeating dis-intelligence in which I stoically played my unconscious part.
With this much framework established, I find myself far more interested in sorting out the relationship between the ICA and EI than I am in trying to reinvent the Institute of Cultural Affairs and Affiliate. I wonder if the extended absence of the Ecumenical Institute is somehow like the anxiously guarded secret of the loony aunt who is carefully locked away in the attic. While EI was out of sight and out of mind, perhaps we've completed one full cycle and have arrived back at the table with the question of the early '70s again on our hands: What is the mission of the Ecumenical Institute and how can it be most effectively accomplished? When we last addressed the question, the answer was something like, "The mission of the Ecumenical Institute is to relieve the innocent human suffering of the world through the good offices of the Institute of Cultural Affairs that we've created for this express purpose." Maybe relegating EI to the file cabinets and the "movement" to ICA's periphery created a fatal organizational flaw at the center with the power to destroy both.
Our challenge now is to squarely face the suffering occasioned by a dysfunctional institution by honestly acknowledge the discombobulated whole without discounting the relevance and value of the sundry parts. The ICA Journeys program, the Learning Basket Approach, the Neighborhood Academy, the Technology of Participation series, the Imaginal Education curricula, the participatory design methods and tools, the International Conference Center, the Chicago Resource Center and the other community resource centers and teams, whether staffed by paid employees or resourceful volunteers, all have value and integrity on their own quite independent of the Institute of Cultural Affairs.
I find myself thinking that the time is ripe to spin off the ICA and its board of directors as a separate entity with the commission to figure out the relationship between fee-for-service and charitable programs and permission to capitalize this new start up with the proceeds from the sale of the Phoenix office. It seems to me that this puts the ICA USA into a position to wrestle with mortality and viability in a far cleaner state than at present with this nagging ghost of the Ecumenical Institute and the old movement pestering it. Is the ICA USA a strategy that has been substantially fulfilled or an institution with a continuing mission and reason for being? It has to be said that there are a lot of sister ICA's across the world who will be profoundly disappointed if the ICA USA were to lose its nerve and not sort itself out.
Simultaneously we need to form a new board of directors for the Ecumenical Institute as our movement's principle asset holder and the one antecedent organization called into being by a recognized, historical body. I feel far more acutely accountable to the intentions of the World Council of Churches and the founders of the Ecumenical Institute than I do to the erstwhile Program Division of the Ecumenical Institute that has been its "public face" and program for the last 33 years. It is releasing and energizing to say, "bless you, ICA, and fare thee well," while I go on to ponder the future of the Ecumenical Institute and the Order Ecumenical.
What agenda for the ICA and the Ecumenical Institute would throw open the curtains and air out a stuffy house?
The challenge of figuring out what's next.
Though fragmented, most of the soul of the ICA was just laid off before it was possible to create and implement a workable succession plan. For the moment, therefore, the ICA is an infrastructure in search of a mission. The fact that the board and administrative staff are about all that remains raises the question of who's going to figure out how to transform an infrastructure into an organization with a mission? There may be a whole lot of care present but there's not much program depth or organizational capacity. Catastrophic blood loss is treated with massive transfusions. What are the needed transfusions in this context?
Challenge 1. The ICA USA's first challenge will be to find a way to expand the context of the conversation about the future in a way that allows us to see beyond nostalgia for the past and the trauma of the present. Though our original purpose was to relieve innocent human suffering in the world, this last year we've managed to inflict innocent human suffering on ourselves. While the purpose remains manifestly relevant, there are numerous outstanding questions. What mission, vision and values are appropriate in these times. What patterns and practices protect the integrity of the organization and the people? What IS the unique gift to history with which this organization was entrusted? What does revisiting the sources of energy, inspiration and creativity that mobilized the ICA as a servant force three decades ago reveal about the vital purpose of the ICA today? Is the turn of events merely a rough start to a creative metamorphosis into an organization with a new purpose and mission and its own integrity?
I believe that separating the Ecumenical Institute from the ICA and engaging the intentional community that founded them both as a partner in dialogue is a potentially energizing way to blow open the context for considering the future of both organizations. Only the largest, most provocative context will reveal whether subtle creative forces are at work in the midst of decline and suffering.
Challenge 2. The second challenge will be rebuilding patterns of inclusive participation and profound respect. The ICA aspired to be a learning organization with participation and respect as two of the central values of its internal operation and social praxis. The rhetoric--and I must believe the intentions--notwithstanding, participation and respect were the first to be sacrificed when the staff faced challenging interpersonal and professional conflicts and when the board was staring down the barrel of a loaded bankruptcy. To this day I have not been offered any plausible explanation for departure of our first Chief Executive or a financial report that reveals the necessity and wisdom of laying off the entire senior program staff. Announcements and informational meetings don't count as participation.
The failure of either staff or board to speak up and take responsibility for naming, engaging and transforming chronic contradictions belies a long-standing, hidden and organization-wide failure of nerve to live our values. For want of facilitative leadership of any sort, we didn't hold so much as a town meeting when it became clear that we were in deep trouble. For reasons to which I am not privy, the board hired a consultant whose recommendation for lay offs was unanimously approved.
The message was clear: the program staff is a liability and laying off that staff will lighten the load. I do not know if the board considered the staff's value as a human asset capable of sharing the load. It's going to be challenging to work with affluent colleagues whose actions dramatically increased my financial insecurity and pulled the rug out from under my succession and retirement strategy. Correct me if I've missed something subtle in this picture and my point of view is simply wrong-headed. If this were an average, garden variety for-profit corporation, this might not be such a glaring incongruity. But in an organization that teaches inclusive participation and profound respect, this is bewildering and unconscionable.
Whatever the full truth, we're left with a dilemma. After a trust-shattering event that abandons participation and divides our community from itself, how are we going to work together on the basis of trust and collegiality? How are we going to strengthen and support the present board of directors and repent of the isolation and exclusion of the last year? How are we going to repent of the ill-treatment of laid off staff and the dismantling of important program assets? How are we going to repent of the economic, social and emotional vulnerability that has been visited upon some of the most esteemed elders of our movement in this strategy to save from bankruptcy the organization that they served for decades? How do those of us who are former staff members repent of our own complicity in the parochialism and naivete that contributed to the present state of affairs?
An instructive event happened today. The first board member to address me personally in three months sent an email requesting help preparing for the upcoming board meeting. Among other things, the note said, "In time there may be more to say and more ways to know, do and be together." I nearly burst into tears, not for having been laid off three months ago, but for having had to wait three months to be acknowledged as an esteemed colleague. There are dozens of painfully wounded souls among both Board and staff members who need someone to reach out with simple acknowledgment. Until this reconnecting begins to take place, we will not be able to move ahead on the basis of deep memory and broad experience.
There will be plenty of this heavy lifting to go around. Both board and former staff members have a lot of apologizing to do to one another and I personally hope that some sort of truth and reconciliation process will be organized. David Zahrt pointed in this direction in his note to the OE Community listserv that arrived 1/17/07. Moving forward requires concrete repentance for falling asleep and forgetting who we are.
Challenge 3. The third challenge is discerning whether the "movemental" character of the early ICA remains a foundational value in the present. The ICA was originally a vehicle for conducting a new kind of social research and analysis and then exercising a new kind of social leadership. The unique character of the early ICA was not its value on participation, per se, but its breadth and depth as a network organization and a learning community. The question goes far deeper than whether or not the ICA provides opportunities for volunteer engagement.
While up to the time of the layoffs each of the ICA's programs had a movemental component, i.e., a more or less explicit intention to build capacity among others to use ICA's methods and programs on their own initiative, the movemental patterns that involved corporate research, strategy creation and a vastly decentralized learning community had long since been abandoned. The closest any programs came to being broadly movemental in nature were probably the ToP
Trainers' Network and the Learning Basket Approach. The expansion of both networks--ToP trainers and Learning Basket Practitioners--involved strategies for building the capacity of far flung national and international networks of staff and volunteers to extend the reach and impact of each respective program.
We never did figure out the relationship between the for-profit and the nonprofit sides of our business or the relationship between staff and stakeholders. But the prominence of numerous "movemental" organizations in American society today, from Moveon.org to Results and from The Network of Spiritual Progressives to Focus on the Family, leads me to believe that the movement nature of the ICA needs to be revisited and reinvented. What are the needed roles, functions and competencies of salaried staff; the nature of ICA's relationship to clients and partners; the expected engagement and contributions of volunteers; and the relationships among the three. Is the business of the ICA staff to deliver services to clients or is it to serve a movement? Is the primary focus of ICA staff to operate in relative isolation from stakeholders at the periphery or is it to deliver services to stakeholders and their clients and partners at the periphery?
We're going to need help avoiding the blindness of nostalgia and embracing the possibility that the business and its relationship to the "movement" will both look quite different in the future.
A practice for healing.
It feels like a very abrupt leap from challenge statements to a short course on anger and a proposal for a new way to think of the Living Legacy Project. Please forgive the whiplash.
The meaning of emotions. I grew up suppressing the anger that I carried within me as a child and young adult. The lesson of my family of origin was clear. Anger bad. Smiling is good. If any of you have ever noticed the tense, jaw-clinched smile that often accompanies concentration, you're looking at a remnant of that distant childhood imaginal education.
Today I am blessed to have a broader and deeper appreciation and capacity for a whole range of emotions. And while I acknowledge that the variety and meaning of human emotions is far more vast than my three-part scheme, I want to point to some images of the meaning of emotions that have benefited me greatly. Emotions are clues.
When I'm deeply sad, I know that I have just lost something to which I was attached. Grief accompanies letting go. The more treasured the relationship with what is being let go, the more profound the grieving.
When I'm scared, I know that I fear for my safety, sometimes physically (as when I'm driving on an icy pavement and the car begins to slide off the road), but more often emotionally (as when I'm afraid that I'll be put down, ignored, or be seen to be a foul). The greater my sense of threat, the greater my fear.
When I'm angry, I know that one of at least two things is happening. An injustice has been perpetrated (as when the president opts the US out of the Kyoto Treaty or deserving refugees are denied safe haven) or a personal boundary has been violated (as when our President startled Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel or I'm being tailgated while driving).
The business of anger and honesty. I mention all this to preface some reflections about anger. You can hear the anger in my voice: in sarcasm, in cynicism and in bluntness. It's important to trust that I am not fundamentally angry at particular people but rather at an unskillfully managed situation to which I am an equally responsible contributor. That doesn't diminish the fact that I feel anger as deep as my sense of grief and in some sense as deep as my fear about the future. I'm not saying that I am sitting around paralyzed by crippling rage, paralyzing grief or overwhelming terror, just that I feel what I feel.
Here's my point. Just because I feel anger doesn't mean that someone else need feel very defensive. My anger is just energy in my body. It comes and goes. Sometimes I feel it and sometimes I don't. When I let it flow it eventually goes away. When the anger dissipates I feel more relaxed and calm. There are not bullets behind my anger, just a perception of certain injustices and boundary violations. I'm not holding on to the anger that I'm experiencing. I'm experiencing the anger and letting it go.
We're going to have to be very conscientious as an intentional community not to harbor anger, not to project anger onto others and not to fall into the trap of believing that we have to fix, correct, reinterpret or deny anyone else's emotions. I very much that the ICA's board of directors will take me seriously when I mostly place myself in a position of responsibility at their side. You are not the cause of my peek, you just happen to be involved in the same situation about which I am angry.
The source of joy.
My anger is highly motivating; owning it carries me in the direction of truth and a feeling of responsibility. When you run into me, you'll notice a heightened intensity about me, but I don't believe that you need to fear for your safety. If you listen to me--not saying a word, just listening--you will give me a life-saving gift: the opportunity for the energy to flow. Grace doesn't get rid of anger, it gives permission to allow it to flow. Salvation is not the absence of emotion, it's the flowing and release of emotion. Joy is not the absence of anger, grief or fear but the fruit of the flow and letting go of anger, grief or fear.
We've got some practicing to do.
A strategy for bridging.
How are we going to create a context that allows us to transform near calamity and abrupt loss into a creative open space where invention is possible? The ICA board and the Interim Executive Director, Kirk Harris are far too isolated. No one person or small group knows what energies are flowing and where they are going. Beyond the ToP
Trainers' Network--a specialized professional network and a voluntary association--that has recently met and appears to be energized, there must be several dozen other isolated centers of brooding and conversation of one sort or another. From where I sit, however, the moment seems to be without form and void.
Kierkegaard offers a clue to capturing the moment: the self is a relationship that relates itself to itself and in deciding to be itself, grounds itself transparently in the power that posited it. The words that leap out at me are relationship, deciding and power.
At the moment, it feels like we are stuck between the no longer and the not yet. There's no discernible point to be out on. We've got to figure out the bridging strategies that give us something concrete to walk on and that will get us from this side to the other. We need to remake broken connections: the board and the ICA's diverse constituencies, board and former staff, present staff and the larger movement, former ICA programs and future possibilities, ICA USA and ICA International, ICA USA and sister organizations overseas, the movement's intellectual property and the needs of the world, the Ecumenical Institute and the church, the Ecumenical Institute and the ICA, and so on and so forth.
Here's an idea that I want to put on the table that has to do with relationship building, new decisions and claiming power.
Why don't we join Judy Lindblad, Betty Pesek and others and claim the Living Legacy Project as a movement event and invite the ICA into partnership. Why don't we set up a dialogue between what we know of our inherited wisdom and the needs of the world's future. Why don't we use the question of the future of the ICA and EI as the concrete, practical context in which to reclaim the contents of our movemental archive. Why don't we organize a distributed corporate research effort that places the content of our institutional memory into dialogue with the content of the world around us. Why don't we use the resources that we have at our disposal--the listservs, the Repository and the untapped capability of the World Wide Web to foster a distributed conversation and evaluation that culminates in a gathering that deeply serves the ICA.
Why don't we carry some of the load of figuring out the ICA's future and why don't we take the board at its word that the ICA intends to foster participatory partner networks.
It is way past my bed time and probably past yours as well.
I salute you for perseverance and look forward to what's next. All the best.
- 22 Jan 2007