Sunday, June 01, 2008

Stories That Change The World

I feel pregnant. I'm bursting at the seams and I'm ready to give birth - again. I say 'again' because this isn't the first time. When you've got a vision and you're seeing it become a reality, you can't help but feel like it's your baby. And once it's born, you just want to see it grow up. In a month's time, we'll be relaunching my second baby, an organization born-again from it's initial coming out two years ago, with new vision, direction, and look - Catalyst Community.

I think part of our journey of reconciling our faith and sexuality is finding our voice. Because part of living in the tension of colliding worlds is the frustration of feeling silenced. At some point there comes a time to tell our story. I'm not saying it has to be completely public where you start a blog *ahem* or Web site or you write a book or you record your story on YouTube. Some times, it's just telling your story to a trusted friend or a family member - a loved one. But ultimately, the journey leads to becoming known because no one really knew us when we were in the closet. The journey leads to authenticity - of who we are, of who we are to God.

If we are so willing, God can use our authenticity for the sake of His Kingdom and the broader community - people He loves dearly. Sometimes I feel like my journey started off self-focussed. I was always working on "me". But now that I know that God loves me, I realize that it's not about "me". Working on "me" was necessary so that I could get to a point of realizing that it's more about God and others. And for me, that takes the form of a vision for a community sensitive to authenticity and empathy. You'll hear more about the new Catalyst in later posts.

There are people like us who will hear our story and be changed themselves. If enough of us tell our story, I believe the community can be changed . . . .

I think of friends like Peterson Toscano who retired his play "Doin' Time in the Homo Nomo Halfway House" where he creatively shares his experiences in reparative therapy and ex-gay programs and is now pioneering efforts to help others tell their stories through one of his babies Beyond Ex-Gay. "Doin' Time" is now available on DVD (which I've already purchased, go buy it!). Peterson now performs a number of other plays that help educate and inspire diverse audiences.

I think of friends like Justin Lee who came to reconcile his faith and sexuality, then started a Web site called Justin's World to help others who were wrestling with being gay and Christian. He eventually started Gay Christian Network and now has well over 8,000 members nurturing people on their own personal journeys, people growing a vibrant faith, and connecting with churches throughout communities all around the world.

I also think of friends like Andrew Marin who courageously confronted his own prejudices against gay people, moved to Boys Town in Chicago with his new wife, immersed himself in gay culture, and learned to love beyond the "issue". Andrew reconciled his journey of being a straight evangelical who also has friends and loved ones who are gay. Andrew started The Marin Foundation to help build bridges between the mainstream faith communities and the GLBT communities. He's now writing a book that will help catalyze the conversation within the Church.

I think of my mother who finally told her sister that she has a gay son. Remember in this previous post when I asked my mom to tell my aunt? She did it. She came out as a parent of a gay son. I was on the phone with my mom yesterday because she wants me to buy a house and she ended our phone conversation with 'I love you'. That was HUGE to me because that was the first time EVER that she had initiated that statement to me. I never doubted that she loves me. But that was the first time she said it first. I spoke with her today and she told me that she did tell my aunt that I'm gay. My aunt is okay with it. And my mom is okay with her knowing. [On a side note: my mom told me that one of my uncles (her cousin) was gay-bashed and murdered two years ago when he was visiting the Philippines. Omg. My mom also happened to be visiting in a different city and was informed of his death. She was able to attend the funeral. My mom and aunt knew that their cousin was gay. He just stayed in the closet and married a woman. He died not knowing that my mom and aunt already knew and that if he would have came out to them, they would have accepted him.] It's not like my mom is going to start some organization or start a chapter of PFLAG. She doesn't have to. But she's telling her story and it's changing our family.

I also think of the many many bloggers out there who are telling their stories. For the third year in a row, numerous people will be "Blogging for LGBT Families".

I believe that stories transcend dogma and stereotypes. Stories make an issue personal. Stories catalyze relationships that eventually change the world.

In a previous post, I mentioned that my approach is to being a catalyst over being an activist. My friend and TWC reader Steve asked in a comment what the difference is between the two. In a nutshell, I'd say that (in my own personal view) a catalyst initiates and inspires others towards a direction or cause. The catalyst sparks movement while eventually handing over the microphone (or keyboard) to those who accept ownership. An activist champions the cause and sees it to fulfillment. I'd say that sometimes a catalyst becomes an activist or even that some activists act catalytically, but in a world changing movement I tend to think that we need both.

One of my favorite books is "The Starfish and the Spider" by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. The book resonated with me because it affirmed my own approach towards community development and my preferences for organizational structure by giving terminology and vocabulary that described my unconventional style. The book talks about how decentralized organizations are like an unstoppable movement - giving the power to the people to shape and define and facilitate and enforce their cause. A starfish is an organism that replicates when parts are severed. A spider is an organism that struggles when legs are severed and dies when the head is cut off.

Starfish entities like peer-to-peer networks and music/file-sharing swappers, users of Craigslist and MySpace and Facebook, the collaboration of Apache engineers, the Native American Apache nation, the contributors of Wikipedia, Alcoholics Anonymous, and even al-qaeda are all difficult to contain because there is no specific head. Sub-communities function independently and taking one group out only inspires the creation of two new groups to replace what was lost.

Spider entities like traditional corporations, religious institutions, and governments are massive but instituting change within can be slow. Removing the head can cause confusion (just ask the chicken) and ultimately results in a fall unless the head is replaced.

The book contends that a Spider is ultimately no match for a Starfish unless the Spider becomes more of a hybrid - takes on Starfish-like qualities. In order to take out a cell, you need to attack with a cell. On the other hand, if you want to catalyze change within the State or the Church - then you've got to do it from the ground up and start a movement among the people. You can't stop people from telling their own personal stories.

The book also describes key elements to a Starfish - five legs:

Leg 1: Circles - smaller units of people that are independent and autonomous.
Leg 2: Catalyst - the visionary, the vision holder, the one who inspires.
Leg 3: Ideology - common vision or beliefs or values
Leg 4: The Preexisting Network - various conglomerations of connecting circles
Leg 5: The Champion - the relentless promoter

All five legs working together can lead to world changing movements like the fights for Civil Rights and Womens' Suffrage and Marriage Equality.

I can go on and on about this stuff! I've even led a workshop called "Catalyzing Tangible Community in Your Local Area" using many of these concepts. If you want to continue a dialogue on this, please definitely contact me! (See top left column)

[Another side note: I was honored to have been given an advance copy of Ori Brafman's newest book (co-authored with his brother Rom Brafman), "SWAY: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior", now available today! I've already started reading it and it's awesome! You'll probably see me write more about it as I'll no doubt be processing much of the things they write about.]

So anyway, back on topic - these are the kinds of approaches I take in being a
lifestyle catalyst to hopefully inspire change and growth and progress in my various communities, groups and social circles. These are also my approaches towards developing the new Catalyst as a somewhat hybrid organization - a community that is shaped by its members. Stay tuned!

Catalyst is just my way of telling my story and encouraging others to tell theirs. Find a way to tell your story to help others. As we all find ways of telling our stories, whether publicly and loudly or privately individually, we are all being catalytic. Our stories reshape people's view of who we are because they finally have an opportunity to see who we really are. When we are silent and hidden, people have no other frame of reference except for the voices of those talking about us. If I don't tell my own authentic story, then someone else will tell it and fill in their own blanks. I (almost) can't blame someone for attaching a stereotype or assumptions to their view of who I am.

We need to find ways of living authentically so that our accurate stories can be told. Then people can begin to empathize and relate with us as fellow members of the community.


Jeanine Byers said...

Awesome post!!

I so admire the work you do here. Such a great blog!


Anonymous said...

Another excellent blog, Eric! I'm so glad that you make time to do this...keep living out what you've been annointed to do!

If I don't tell my own authentic story, then someone else will tell it and fill in their own blanks. I (almost) can't blame someone for attaching a stereotype or assumptions to their view of who I am.

Absolutely. It puts some people in quite a dilemma -- i.e. those in the military. People that want to be authentic, want to tell their stories ... but simply can't do it without quite a bit of risk. That's why it's so important for people like you to lead the way and keep on doing what you're doing.

Anonymous said...

Eric.. As Stan said another excellent blog.

I'm so proud to know someone that takes on such responsibilities and bettering the world we all live in. You are and inspiration to us all, and I respect you a lot.

So looking forward to see the baby grow, start walking, learn to read, get a personality and one day leave home to head out on his own journey...

Anonymous said...

You never cease to inspire, my brother. Your words are so powerful! THank God for your vision and passion. Love ya, buddy.

Steve said...

"When we are silent and hidden, people have no other frame of reference except for the voices of those talking about us".

That is such an amazingly powerful statement! In an essay containing many golden nuggets of wisdom, that jumped out at me especially so.

Thanks Eric!