Question of the week: What is trying to happen here?

February 17-22, 2011, Ann Linnea and I drove over the border into southern British Columbia in order to work with two Presbyteries of the United Church of Canada. We introduced PeerSpirit Circle Process as a way to conduct their church related business and support communities of faith in times when especially the rural congregations are more and more reliant on active lay leadership. The people were wonderful, the circle well-received, and the drive much longer and more strenuous than we anticipated—both in sheer distance, and in making our way over mountain passes in winter.

I think we were better “consultants” to these folks because we drove. The scenery was gorgeous, with sheer cliff faces sheeted in frozen waterfalls and forests of Ponderosa pine and Doug fir covered with shawls of snow.  We drove and drove, arrived and interacted with authenticity and depth, deposited the circle as a life-skill and storycatching space, drove on, and eventually turned toward home in a swirl of snow that followed us all the way back to Whidbey Island. That’s where we were when a new story broke loose in the United States.

We arrived home after five days of being entirely locally focused to global news of a severe earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, a city on the lovely south island where we had worked and vacationed in early December; to revolt in Libya where another population is willing to put their lives on the line to free themselves from dictatorship; and to Madison, Wisconsin, where a recently elected “Tea Party” governor finds his citizens in revolt against a bill that would strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Dare we notice that a stolid, stable, predominantly Caucasian and Christian, largely rural, blue collar, and farming state in the middle of the US of A has possibly been inspired to reawakened activism by the uprising of a Muslim nation?

Dare we notice that the principles that underlie the work of collaborative leadership that PeerSpirit offers through the medium of circle process are being expressed and lived in the occupation of the state capitol?

Yes. We notice—at least I’m noticing.

In a Reuters piece written by James Kelleher and published on 2/22/11, the reporter notes, “Like the people thousands of miles away in Egypt who set up a tent city in Tahrir Square…the protesters participating in the state capitol sleep-in here have quickly set up a little organized society—complete with its own simple rules…. Our principles: 1. The Capitol is our house! Treat it as such and clean up! 2. Non-violence: stay away from debates! Don’t hurt others. 3. No drugs or alcohol. 4. Keep noise down past 1am. 5. Have fun.”

The words transport me to dozens of times when I have participated with circles of people fashioning into their own words variations of the basic PeerSpirit agreements: 1. Respect each other’s stories—confidentiality unless permission to share. 2. Listen with compassion and curiosity—transform judgment. 3. Ask for what you need and offer what you can. 4. Choose a way to halt to the action and reflect, re-center, and then go on. We often refer to these as the “ancient laws of respect,” and when I read the similarities in the principles between circle and sit-ins, the commonality of respect absolutely delights me.  Wow—the global conversation movement and the methodologies of collaborative leadership are having an impact! The connection may be untraceable, yet emergent and self-organizing.

Twenty years ago, when Ann and I started formulating circle process out of the intuitive ways we had been teaching, we had a dream: that in moments of crisis when things were on the verge of breaking down or breaking open, someone would shout out—“hey, let’s circle up!” and others would know what they meant and would agree to this kind of dialogue, to “non-violence, staying away from debates and not hurting each other.” I know that cultural shift is made up of many complex factors, but it sure is a delight to feel a sense of connection between what we’ve devoted our lives to and what’s happening in Wisconsin.

May this truly be a turning point for our country. May we find in each other allies we never expected to meet. May “we” be entering an expanding experience of breaking out of the lies and lethargy that have bound us. May we awaken to radical activism on behalf of what serves the common good.

A local pizzeria in Madison volunteered to take orders on-line for pizza donations and deliver them to the protesters and orders came in from as far away as Cairo.

What is trying to happen here?

4 replies
  1. Cynthia Orange
    Cynthia Orange says:

    Thanks for this Christina. Michael and I couldn’t stand not being in the midst of history so we got in the car on Thursday and drove to Madison to stand in solidarity with farmers, teachers, workers, seniors, vets and SO many others. They expect over 100,000 here tomorrow, led by a farmer “tractor-cade” in the morning. This IS what democracy looks like–or should look like. Love you.

  2. Ann Lonstein
    Ann Lonstein says:

    Hi Christina

    Always good to read your words. I have so many mixed emotions about what is going on in the world. I keep thinking God is really pissed! But it helps to read what you think and feel hopeful.
    So good to read Cynthia’s post. She too was my writing teacher.
    Be well,

  3. Sarah Petty
    Sarah Petty says:

    Dear Christina–it is 3:30 a.m here in WV and your words have the power to take me into circle on your garden island again. Just to let you know what is trying to happen here–I met with 2 other women to learn the PeerSpirit dynamics, and along with the agreements all 3 of us knew something else needed to be included in our intention. Individually we had all become aware of a desire to honor magnificence–our own, others’, and magnificence itself. As ever when Spirit is invited to do chiropractic, we experienced the joy of establishing a C.o.M. (Circle of Magnificence) and are about to begin a second circle to focus on using PSYCH-K to change limiting beliefs and help one another become more and more authentic, aligned with our Higher Selves. In our writers’ group here (Priming the Pump) we have decided to form a storycatcher group for Monroe County, and one of the members–author of several books, mentioned your name as an inspiration. I concurred. Thanks for the work you and Anne are doing! ;-}}}

  4. Jude Rathburn
    Jude Rathburn says:

    Dear Christina – It is now April 2015 and I just read your essay in the anthology Darkness Before Dawn. For some reason I was compelled to look back at your blog, as far back as I could go, to see what was on your mind and in your public heart back then. To my surprise I found my home state of Wisconsin and the story of my fellow citizens, standing in solidarity against a mean-spirited governor, who has single-handedly destroyed the progressive spirit of this great state.

    Four years have passed since his blog post – we no longer have collective bargaining rights in this state and the educational system has been gutted. He is still governor, having won a recall election through the support of people from other states who have a lot of cash to spend. And the spirit of the hardworking people of this state has been sucked dry. I do not know how things managed to get this bad in a state that used to make me so proud. That spirit of solidarity and the belief that circling up could make a difference, seem to be remnants of a distant past.


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