Creating Liberated Spaces: Some Thoughts

Back in February, and on the dawn of Transfiguration Sunday, about 30 (?) folks piled into a Southeastern Portland home to share in a conversation being facilitated by two out of towners Eliacin Rosario-Cruz (Seattle) and Mark Van Steenwyk (Minnesota). The crowd was made up of a number of men and women from a variety of backgrounds, some Episcopalian, some pastors and clergy, some starting or living in intentional communities, all interested in what it means to follow the radical way of Jesus in our time. I was particularly interested in going because I wanted to meet Mark, whose website Jesus Manifesto I follow, and hang out with Eliacin and his family. But the description of the event from the website caught my attention nonetheless:

In what way is Jesus and his way actually revolutionary? Is Jesus’ call to “seek the Kingdom” actually a call to nonviolent resistance, to solidarity with the poor, to liberation for the oppressed?

What structures within our society (organizational structures, thought structures, etc.) get in the way of that happening? And what way can we realistically embody the Kingdom alternative?

Join us as we talk honestly about the radical call of Jesus, the distractions that gets in the way, and how we can begin to to create Kingdom spaces in the here and now.

The evening was well worth my time, even though it’s never easy to leave the family on a day off. I found the people there lovely to meet, the conversations lively and thought provoking and the music was inspiring. Seth Martin started us off with music. He played great original tunes and some fantastic old protest songs (such as Pete Seegar’s God Bless the Grass) with a friend of his (you can listen to some of his music here). They helped to create a worshipful space and everyone seemed wrapped up in the songs singing them from deep within.

After the singing Mark and Eliacin kicked off the conversation with some framing about the direction they hoped we’d move in, and some of the overarching questions. The initial question revolved around what it meant to say Jesus’ way is revolutionary (and if we really believe that it is, then what?). We talked about the various contexts of the word revolutionary from political uprisings to the trendy and “cool” uses of the word and ideas, not unlike the iconic image of Che Guevara’s face plastered all over white suburban kids t-shirts. Has revolution lost all its meaning?

Going off the notes I took from what a number of people shared, this is what I took away from the conversation that followed.

The bigger point of all this has to do with how we as the church might resist the dominating structures (empire) within our society and create something new as an alternative. Is it possible to create something new within this type of setting without necessarily destroying what already exists? Obviously some of our societal injustices need to be flatly abolished, while others present great challenges for a small band of believers. But this does not mean we can’t begin forming new communities and ways of life that challenge the dominate ways of life. We can take that which smoothers and oppresses and turn it into something that gives life similar to Mary in John 12 who takes a bottle of expensive fragrant perfume that was an obstacle to some believing (Judas) and she turns it into an object used in the worship of Jesus pouring it out at his feet.

This alternative, creative and hopefully life-giving space (or community) is the “liberated space(s)” that began the conversation. So what are some of these liberated spaces? They are when people are able to move beyond the surface relationships and find ways to go deeper and be vulnerable with one another. Where deep “kingdom” friendships form, friendships that inspire faithful and radical living under Christ, relationships that pray for and serve one another, relationships that transcend sameness and take risk as a feature of all human relationships. A liberated space is working together as friends, as a community, rather than as isolated individuals. If the empire looks to foster a culture of detachment, whether that is separating: people from one another, the joy of creating and working from our daily lives, food from where it comes from, humanity from the earth, our shared stories from our traditions, or our practice of faith from the rest of how we live, a liberated space works to re-integrate all these things (and more).  It assumes the power of human presences.

Other thoughts on what a liberated space is included:

  • An inner sanctuary
  • The space we create where we can get back to who we really are. “To move back to the face you had before you were born” (A Buddhist saying).
  • A silent space
  • It welcomes the dreams of others (and finds ways for them to be realized).
  • Being able to be honest without the exclusion of others
  • It is adaptive and responsive
  • (And one I really liked) It is a stubborn fidelity to each other
  • It remains hopeful, resists despair. Holds out hope for others who cannot do it themselves.
  • A place to learn how to live patiently and prayerfully
  • It is a confessional as well as a forgiving space

After a long time of sharing around what a liberate space is, where and how we have experienced these spaces the conversation moved on towards impediments in creating such spaces. Some of the greatest difficulties people have with this type of community is the difficulty in maintaining healthy vibrant friendships. We struggle with perfectionisms and allow failures and wounds to get the better of us. We have a lot of people who still wrestle with what to value and how to spend our time. We also have a long way to go before we can learn ways to love something or someone rather than simply turning him or her into an enemy.

Finally, Eliacin closed us with some thoughts from Dorothee Sölle a mystic and liberation theologian. He presented her thought on mysticism and resistance and the cycle she saw as needed to make movement in this arena. First, it begins with Awe and a recognition of what we most long for; then confession and a letting go of everything that holds us back (even these deepest longings); and finally, healing and resistance helps us to deal with junk that takes up our lives and holds captive our imaginations.

My experience of the evening was that it was well facilitated and stimulating. I enjoyed the fact that neither Ma Eliacin rk nor acted as experts in this area but simply helped to shape the conversation and keep it moving. They didn’t over speak and made sure to let every have a chance to respond. The in effect helped to create a liberated space that evening and I loved it. I was also grateful to Kerlin and her husband Jordan for hosting that space in their home and being so gracious with all of us. I look forward to the next time we do something like this.

(It was also really cool that Mark, Eliacin and family, visited all of us at Camas Friends Church the following morning.)