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“Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.” (Exodus 3:2b, NIV)

The words contemplative activism seem at first in opposition to one another. Contemplative infers stillness and sacredness, while activism denotes action and anger. So, how can these two work together? 

While meditating on the imagery for this issue, the story of Moses came to my mind– specifically, the image of the burning bush that was on fire but not consumed. This is how God chose to appear to Moses, calling him to act against the treatment of the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt. Divine anger burned against the institutions that were in place, but still it did not consume the bush.

I believe this can be a model for contemplative activism. We can embody God this way: letting our grief, anger, and heart for change burn within us without letting them consume our souls, our relationships, and our faith. We can have the compassion to see the oppressor as a victim of larger oppressive mindsets. We can pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).

Contemplative activism embodies Jesus this way: not allowing ourselves to be defined only by our cross-shaped activism but also allowing our activism to be the conduit for great resurrection, new creation, and flourishing new life. 

- Julius Shumpert

by Julius Shumpert
MANIFESTO STATEMENT

God created us to be rooted in our authentic selves as we engage with the world.

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Reflection and Prayer: Seeking the Ways of God

Throughout this StoryArc, PAX spiritual director Osheta Moore will open and close each path point with a contemplative practice. Here, she shares a personal reflection on contemplative activism and offers a beautiful prayer by Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century German abbess.
Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore, PAX’s spiritual director, is a Black, Southern, everyday peacemaker. She serves as community life pastor at Roots Covenant and adjunct teacher at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Osheta is the author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, and Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, on anti-racism peacemaking.

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Seeking the Ways of God by Hildegard of Bingen

God, I go east.

You call me to begin in light my journey toward you.

Let this light be in my life the brilliant sun of justice.

God, I go north.

You turn my face inward to mark the darkness and coldness of my own heart.

Melt the ice that can encase my mind; unseal the frostiness of my struggling heart.

God, I go south.

You open to me the lightsome paths of wisdom.

Teach me to choose well, to befriend the spirit of choice.

God, I go west.

You point me again to the Scriptures, where I can meet your Word to the highways and byways of life.

Open my eyes to the flashing forth of these brilliant rays of light.

Go with me; I go with you.

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What Is Contemplative Activism?

PAX co-founder and president Drew Jackson introduces the concept of contemplative activism: what it is, how it reflects who God created us to be, and how it can guide peacemakers and justice-seekers today.
Drew Jackson

Drew Jackson is the author of God Speaks Through Wombs (InterVarsity Press, 2021), a poetic and theological engagement with the first eight chapters of the Gospel of Luke. He also has a forthcoming collection, Touch the Earth: Poems on The Way, set to be released in January 2023, which explores the rest of Luke’s Gospel. Drew serves as president of Pax and is the lead pastor of Hope East Village. He lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife, Genay, and their twin daughters, Zora and Suhaila.

Welcome to the Pax StoryArc on Contemplative Activism! We’re so glad you’ve embarked on this journey with us. As we begin, you should know that when we use the phrase contemplative activism, we’re talking about more than just theory or a concept. Contemplative activism is a way of being and living that reflects who God created us to be. It’s not a term that’s very easy to define because of its depth of meaning, but at its most basic we’re talking about a life that brings together both contemplation and action—a life that recognizes that our being and our doing cannot be separated from each other. 

Contemplative activism is about having a non-reactive, non-anxious presence in the world. The contemplative activist views things not just through the either/or binary, but through the both/and—able to hold together opposites and the tensions of things without the need to always have resolution. Contemplative activism is about understanding that we are not separate from, but connected to the whole—to God, to one another, to the land, to the whole cosmos. We are all interdependent, “bound together in an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it. In our everyday lives, this looks like being both deeply rooted in God and who we are, but also being present to and engaged in our world, especially the places where there is pain, suffering, injustice, and broken relationships.

I personally began to discover the necessity of contemplative activism when I began working with pastors and congregations to help them navigate conversations around racial justice. Any work challenging things like racism and white supremacy is tiring and exhausting, and I had to come to the awareness that if I was going to be actively engaged in the work of justice in any capacity, my inner life and outer life had to be congruent. I couldn't be trying to give from an empty well, because we can’t give what we don’t possess. See, when we care about contemplation and not action, we disconnect ourselves from the world and its pain, and when we are active and don’t incorporate the contemplative, we’re always in danger of burning out and even losing ourselves as we seek to give so much away.

We at Pax want to lean into the contemplative activist life as a counter to the reactive, angry, mistrustful, argumentative culture of today. To be true peacemakers, to be bringers of shalom we must live as whole, integrated humans. Our inner lives and outer lives should be marked by consistency, integrity, and a deep sense of connection to the Spirit, to others, and this world that we are in. In this path point and the other three that follow, we've carefully curated a selection of excellent essays, stories, artwork, and interviews that, together, paint a picture of the contemplative activist life and how this honors God and our own humanity. We'll also include contemplative practices throughout the StoryArc that we hope you'll try with us, to help you begin developing rhythms of grounding, reflection, and connection. We hope you are inspired and blessed by this StoryArc, and can begin to imagine your role as a peacemaking contemplative activist in the redemptive work of God.

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by Mondo Scott
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VOCATIO

Drew Jackson

Drew Jackson is the author of God Speaks Through Wombs (InterVarsity Press, 2021), a poetic and theological engagement with the first eight chapters of the Gospel of Luke. He also has a forthcoming collection, Touch the Earth: Poems on The Way, set to be released in January 2023, which explores the rest of Luke’s Gospel. Drew serves as president of Pax and is the lead pastor of Hope East Village. He lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife, Genay, and their twin daughters, Zora and Suhaila.

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VOCATIO

Luke 4:43

I’ve wondered what I was made for.

I spent the years of my youth in my Father’s house

reflecting out loud about this,

discovering my mission in this one fierce life.

For what purpose were the cells that make up this brown body

assembled on planet earth?

Was I sent to spend my days

proving to you that my existence matters?

Or is there more?

Maybe that is the more.

What could exceed the importance of binding humanity to humanity.

To the birds. The land. The trees. To Divinity.

My vocation

has been coded on strands of nucleic acid

since days long past.

Alas, this is why I passed

through the birth canal of the offspring of Eve:

to release justice, love, and shalom

into the atmosphere

of this blue and green spherical object

that I call home.

From God Speaks Through Wombs by Drew Jackson. Reprinted with permission.
Copyright 2021 by Drew Jackson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
www.ivpress.com

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by Julius Shumpert

We Really Do Make the Road by Walking

Randy Woodley

Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley, PhD, is a farmer, activist, scholar, distinguished speaker, teacher, and wisdom-keeper who addresses a variety of issues concerning American culture, faith and spirituality, justice, race and diversity, regenerative farming, our relationship with the earth, and Indigenous realities. Dr. Woodley currently serves as distinguished professor of faith and culture at Portland Seminary, and is the author of six books, the most recent being Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth. He and his wife are co-sustainers of Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice and Eloheh Farm & Seeds, a regenerative teaching center and farm in Yamhill, Oregon. Dr. Woodley was raised near Detroit, Michigan, and is a Cherokee descendant recognized by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma.

Many years ago, I ended one of my books with the same story I am beginning with here. I told it then for a different reason. But, over the years, I have changed. 

In my younger years I was given monikers like “impetuous,” “too quick to dive in head-first,” “the angry Indian,” and, likely, many other labels people would not say to my face. I took pride in those titles because I wanted to live what I preached; to act on what I believed. I made a lot of changes in organizations and various systems, often meeting challenges head-on. I also experienced a lot of pain and likely caused others to experience pain as well.

As a mixed-blood Native American, I have lived as a bridge between two worlds. The Western world is obsessed with categories and definitions, stemming from centuries of colonialism when things or ideas were named so they could be controlled. Our Indigenous way is not so much about creating and naming categories, but rather demonstrating and experiencing the reality of those ideas. I hesitate to define something like contemplative activism for you but will instead create a picture-story of the contemplative activist life from my own experiences. And I’ve had a few. Sometimes I have even been blessed enough to be the impetus for social change that furthered justice.

This activist journey has not been an easy one for me. It took ongoing sacrifice against extreme and difficult odds. I have been shot at, received life-threatening phone calls, and dismissed from employment on several occasions. But I think now that I was always too eager to be the “tip of the spear.” 

Without a doubt, changes absolutely need to be made in evil, corrupted systems. I stood against racism and injustice when someone needed to make a stand. But, as I look back, I can also see that some may have been unnecessarily hurt. I can see the cost my own family had to pay for my activism. My mind often became so filled with the fight that I neglected to deeply consider the needs of others around me. In losing several jobs my family had to move because I kept confronting racist systems in the organizations with which I worked. Moving is hard on children. I realize now that I might have negotiated more and confronted less, which could have saved my family undue heartache.

On some occasions, I may have had better results from simply showing the spear rather than throwing the spear. In other words, I should have leaned more toward negotiation than confrontation. In most cases I had the proof needed to expose racism in various systems. (Note: these were all Christian organizations.) They may have made the changes needed if I had negotiated more instead of believing that all I needed to do was confront the problem and trust they would fix it. Perhaps not. Homeostasis, or the tendency toward equilibrium, is a powerful force for organizational systems. People often value their own job security more than the truth, and I was too often naïve enough to trust they would do the right thing.

I wish I could say that I came to better understand how to become a more contemplative activist through intentional times of thought and self-reflection. I did have times of introspection, but those usually came through tough lessons learned in deep humility. But activism doesn’t always have to come in tough times. Sometimes success shows a need for change as well.

When I first began pastoring a Native American church, I used typical church growth principles to build up attendance through an attractional model. We had a great worship band, friendly welcome, and dynamic preaching, which is what all denominational systems hope for. Our little church grew from seventeen members to well over a hundred in the first year. But even in the midst of “success,” something gnawed at me from the inside. I decided to make a trip out to the desert to seek solace and a clear direction. While out in the desert, alone with my own thoughts, nature, and Great Mystery, I heard the words deep in my heart: “I did not bring you out here for this.” I knew immediately what I needed to do.

I began to include more Native American elements and Indigenous style governance to the church. As I did, many of the White people and others began to depart. The church shrank quickly, but I knew we were heading in the right direction. Eventually that church, the only culturally Native American church for hundreds of miles, became a place of joy and refuge for Native Americans and other marginalized people. We became a national model for a culturally contextual church.

Sometimes losing looks a lot like winning, but doing the right thing is always a win regardless of the outcome.

Wisdom is essential in the life of an activist. I don’t think you have to become older to gain wisdom, but it helps to surround yourself with elders who have been down a similar path. Allow them to speak into your life, regardless of whether you agree with their advice. My best friends have often been those who cared enough to point out my blinders and faults. If you surround yourself with people who care enough to speak honestly into your life, and you sit and reflect on how things can go or how they have gone, you can gain wisdom. 

But you can’t just sit. Wisdom comes through experience—both yours and that of others. A story that has deeply impacted me was often told by the late Rev. Robert Bushyhead, one of the Cherokee elders from the North Carolina Eastern Band. He called it the story of “Yonder Mountain.” 

An older village chief was about to step down after leading victories in battle, ensuring peace, providing protection, and securing food stores through hard times. Now it was time for the people to pick a new chief. They narrowed it down to three good choices, all seemingly worthy of leading the next generation into the future. The people of the town could not decide, so they asked the retiring chief for assistance.

The elder chief decided he would test the three leading candidates to determine who was best suited to lead the people. He told the three men to look out at yonder mountain. They were to go to the top of the mountain and bring back whatever they found that would best help the people. The three men, starting from different places, headed up the huge mountain.

Days passed. Finally, the first man returned. “On the way up the mountain,” said the man, “I found these precious stones. With these, we will have great trading power, and our people will never go hungry again.” The chief commended the man for his shrewd thinking. “You have done well,” he said. 

Several more days passed before the second man returned. He had seen the precious stones but decided to see what else lay ahead. Before he reached the top of the mountain, just off the trail, the man found an abundant supply of medicinal plants and herbs. “With these plants,” he thought to himself, “our people will never have to suffer again.” He reported all this to the chief, showing him a handful of the herbs. “You have done well,” said the chief, commending him for his compassion. 

A few more days went by, and still the third man had not returned. The chief told the people to wait one more day for him. The next day, the third man came stumbling in, worn out and exhausted. “On the way up the mountain,” he explained to the chief, “I saw many precious stones. But I remembered you said to go to the top of the mountain, so I continued on. Closer to the top, I noticed, just off the path, many herbs and medicinal plants. I knew our people could use these, but, again, I remembered you said to go to the top.”

The young man continued, “The last part of the climb was the hardest, but I kept going until I reached the top of yonder mountain. Then, as I was resting, I saw smoke coming from a Shawnee village below. I could hear the people crying and saw they were in distress, so I climbed down the other side of the mountain. The people in this village were very poor and sick from hunger. But they had no medicine or valuable items to trade for food. I knew what I needed to do.

“I climbed back up yonder mountain and started down the steep rocks. I followed the trail until I reached the medicinal plants and herbs. I gathered up as many as I could. Then I went down further and filled my pouch with precious stones, and I made my way back to the village. From the medicinal plants I made tea. As the people slowly recovered, I took the precious stones downriver to the next village and traded them for food. Only now, when the people of the village have begun to truly recover, is when I returned to tell you these things. I have nothing in my hands to show for the journey. But I felt I had no other choice, given the circumstances.”

The old chief took off his chief’s robe and placed it over the young man who had returned last. “You have shown that you are able to see beyond the mountain, and even beyond your own people and know there are people other than our own villagers in need,” said the old man. “You are the new chief because you have the mind and the heart to lead the people.” This story demonstrates an activist’s heart and mind, and hands and feet. 

Someone has said, “We make the road by walking.” But we don’t just plow ahead, walking without wisdom. We don’t consider meeting our goals as the win, by walking without a heart of compassion. Compassion must flow in all directions, even to our enemies. Our goals should never get in the way of the journey.

The win is in the journey itself. We walk, we watch, we wait, we act, and we walk some more. This is what I have found to be the heart of a contemplative activist.

Many years ago, I ended one of my books with the same story I am beginning with here. I told it then for a different reason. But, over the years, I have changed. 

In my younger years I was given monikers like “impetuous,” “too quick to dive in head-first,” “the angry Indian,” and, likely, many other labels people would not say to my face. I took pride in those titles because I wanted to live what I preached; to act on what I believed. I made a lot of changes in organizations and various systems, often meeting challenges head-on. I also experienced a lot of pain and likely caused others to experience pain as well.

As a mixed-blood Native American, I have lived as a bridge between two worlds. The Western world is obsessed with categories and definitions, stemming from centuries of colonialism when things or ideas were named so they could be controlled. Our Indigenous way is not so much about creating and naming categories, but rather demonstrating and experiencing the reality of those ideas. I hesitate to define something like contemplative activism for you but will instead create a picture-story of the contemplative activist life from my own experiences. And I’ve had a few. Sometimes I have even been blessed enough to be the impetus for social change that furthered justice.

This activist journey has not been an easy one for me. It took ongoing sacrifice against extreme and difficult odds. I have been shot at, received life-threatening phone calls, and dismissed from employment on several occasions. But I think now that I was always too eager to be the “tip of the spear.” 

I may have had better results from simply showing the spear rather than throwing the spear. In other words, I should have leaned more toward negotiation than confrontation.

Without a doubt, changes absolutely need to be made in evil, corrupted systems. I stood against racism and injustice when someone needed to make a stand. But, as I look back, I can also see that some may have been unnecessarily hurt. I can see the cost my own family had to pay for my activism. My mind often became so filled with the fight that I neglected to deeply consider the needs of others around me. In losing several jobs my family had to move because I kept confronting racist systems in the organizations with which I worked. Moving is hard on children. I realize now that I might have negotiated more and confronted less, which could have saved my family undue heartache.

On some occasions, I may have had better results from simply showing the spear rather than throwing the spear. In other words, I should have leaned more toward negotiation than confrontation. In most cases I had the proof needed to expose racism in various systems. (Note: these were all Christian organizations.) They may have made the changes needed if I had negotiated more instead of believing that all I needed to do was confront the problem and trust they would fix it. Perhaps not. Homeostasis, or the tendency toward equilibrium, is a powerful force for organizational systems. People often value their own job security more than the truth, and I was too often naïve enough to trust they would do the right thing.

I wish I could say that I came to better understand how to become a more contemplative activist through intentional times of thought and self-reflection. I did have times of introspection, but those usually came through tough lessons learned in deep humility. But activism doesn’t always have to come in tough times. Sometimes success shows a need for change as well.

When I first began pastoring a Native American church, I used typical church growth principles to build up attendance through an attractional model. We had a great worship band, friendly welcome, and dynamic preaching, which is what all denominational systems hope for. Our little church grew from seventeen members to well over a hundred in the first year. But even in the midst of “success,” something gnawed at me from the inside. I decided to make a trip out to the desert to seek solace and a clear direction. While out in the desert, alone with my own thoughts, nature, and Great Mystery, I heard the words deep in my heart: “I did not bring you out here for this.” I knew immediately what I needed to do.

Wisdom is essential in the life of an activist.

I began to include more Native American elements and Indigenous style governance to the church. As I did, many of the White people and others began to depart. The church shrank quickly, but I knew we were heading in the right direction. Eventually that church, the only culturally Native American church for hundreds of miles, became a place of joy and refuge for Native Americans and other marginalized people. We became a national model for a culturally contextual church.

Sometimes losing looks a lot like winning, but doing the right thing is always a win regardless of the outcome.

Wisdom is essential in the life of an activist. I don’t think you have to become older to gain wisdom, but it helps to surround yourself with elders who have been down a similar path. Allow them to speak into your life, regardless of whether you agree with their advice. My best friends have often been those who cared enough to point out my blinders and faults. If you surround yourself with people who care enough to speak honestly into your life, and you sit and reflect on how things can go or how they have gone, you can gain wisdom. 

But you can’t just sit. Wisdom comes through experience—both yours and that of others. A story that has deeply impacted me was often told by the late Rev. Robert Bushyhead, one of the Cherokee elders from the North Carolina Eastern Band. He called it the story of “Yonder Mountain.” 

An older village chief was about to step down after leading victories in battle, ensuring peace, providing protection, and securing food stores through hard times. Now it was time for the people to pick a new chief. They narrowed it down to three good choices, all seemingly worthy of leading the next generation into the future. The people of the town could not decide, so they asked the retiring chief for assistance.

The elder chief decided he would test the three leading candidates to determine who was best suited to lead the people. He told the three men to look out at yonder mountain. They were to go to the top of the mountain and bring back whatever they found that would best help the people. The three men, starting from different places, headed up the huge mountain.

Days passed. Finally, the first man returned. “On the way up the mountain,” said the man, “I found these precious stones. With these, we will have great trading power, and our people will never go hungry again.” The chief commended the man for his shrewd thinking. “You have done well,” he said. 

Several more days passed before the second man returned. He had seen the precious stones but decided to see what else lay ahead. Before he reached the top of the mountain, just off the trail, the man found an abundant supply of medicinal plants and herbs. “With these plants,” he thought to himself, “our people will never have to suffer again.” He reported all this to the chief, showing him a handful of the herbs. “You have done well,” said the chief, commending him for his compassion. 

A few more days went by, and still the third man had not returned. The chief told the people to wait one more day for him. The next day, the third man came stumbling in, worn out and exhausted. “On the way up the mountain,” he explained to the chief, “I saw many precious stones. But I remembered you said to go to the top of the mountain, so I continued on. Closer to the top, I noticed, just off the path, many herbs and medicinal plants. I knew our people could use these, but, again, I remembered you said to go to the top.”

The young man continued, “The last part of the climb was the hardest, but I kept going until I reached the top of yonder mountain. Then, as I was resting, I saw smoke coming from a Shawnee village below. I could hear the people crying and saw they were in distress, so I climbed down the other side of the mountain. The people in this village were very poor and sick from hunger. But they had no medicine or valuable items to trade for food. I knew what I needed to do.

Compassion must flow in all directions, even to our enemies. Our goals should never get in the way of the journey.

“I climbed back up yonder mountain and started down the steep rocks. I followed the trail until I reached the medicinal plants and herbs. I gathered up as many as I could. Then I went down further and filled my pouch with precious stones, and I made my way back to the village. From the medicinal plants I made tea. As the people slowly recovered, I took the precious stones downriver to the next village and traded them for food. Only now, when the people of the village have begun to truly recover, is when I returned to tell you these things. I have nothing in my hands to show for the journey. But I felt I had no other choice, given the circumstances.”

The old chief took off his chief’s robe and placed it over the young man who had returned last. “You have shown that you are able to see beyond the mountain, and even beyond your own people and know there are people other than our own villagers in need,” said the old man. “You are the new chief because you have the mind and the heart to lead the people.” This story demonstrates an activist’s heart and mind, and hands and feet. 

Someone has said, “We make the road by walking.” But we don’t just plow ahead, walking without wisdom. We don’t consider meeting our goals as the win, by walking without a heart of compassion. Compassion must flow in all directions, even to our enemies. Our goals should never get in the way of the journey.

The win is in the journey itself. We walk, we watch, we wait, we act, and we walk some more. This is what I have found to be the heart of a contemplative activist.

1 Laila Lalami, Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, 1st ed. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2020), 70.
2 See chapter two in Daniel Carrol’s The Bible and Borders: Hearing God's Word on Immigration (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2020).
3 Julio L. Martínez, Citizenship, Migrations and Religion: An Ethical Dialogue Based on the Christian Faith (Madrid: Universidad Pontificia Comillas, 2007), 51.
4 Peter Phan, "The Experience of Migration in the United States as a Source of Intercultural Theology," in E. Padilla E. and P.C. Phan (eds.) Contemporary Issues of Migration and Theology (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 148.

I may have had better results from simply showing the spear rather than throwing the spear. In other words, I should have leaned more toward negotiation than confrontation.
Wisdom is essential in the life of an activist.
Compassion must flow in all directions, even to our enemies. Our goals should never get in the way of the journey.
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by Mondo Scott
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Contemplative Practice: Lovingkindness Prayer

Jesus calls us to love with an inclusive love that extends beyond ourselves and friends and family members to acquaintances and even enemies. Sustainable, life-giving social activism is fueled by divinely-inspired empathy and compassion for those we disagree with, are actively in conflict with, or are oppressed by. This is not easy for anyone. PAX spiritual director Osheta Moore walks us through a lovingkindness prayer that, when offered as a regular practice, grows our ability to extend sincere love to the different people in our lives.
Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore, PAX’s spiritual director, is a Black, Southern, everyday peacemaker. She serves as community life pastor at Roots Covenant and adjunct teacher at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Osheta is the author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, and Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, on anti-racism peacemaking.

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MYTH  >