Wednesday, June 26, 2013

MountainTop I


Back in February I received an invitation to an event called “MountainTop: Advancing a multifaith movement for justice” convening in Nashville, Tennessee, over three days in June.  The invitation said this was a “summit of established and emerging leaders inspired by their faith, heritage or core values. … [to] work together to establish the multifaith movement as a platform that informs, invigorates and inspires other inclusive social change initiatives and promotes collaboration.”  I accepted.

After a long, miserable and tiring day of travel, I arrived bleary-eyed but with an open mind and no agenda.

We met in a remarkable facility called the Vanderbilt Center for Better Health.  The site featured many flat and curved whiteboards on rollers, bookcases, tables, and other furniture, all reconfigured from session to session as needed.

As each of us arrived, we were warmly greeted and photographed, then invited to breakfast at round tables.  There were large papers on the tables with squares for us to write things like our names.  In one square we drew ourselves using only five lines, and in another we wrote something unlikely that informed our spirituality, while one square remained intentionally blank.  I wrote “Samurai Jack” as a personal source. Staff gathered these papers and soon they all appeared posted on various boards around the room with the photo taken when we entered.  (I must say I didn’t weather the bad travel day well.)

Soon Fred Johnson, an ordained nondenominational minister with the World Fellowship International Church, summoned us to a central gathering place with drumming and song.

We sat facing a large curved whiteboard, probably about 30 feet long, with two large video monitors on either side.  As chief facilitator Rob Evans of Imaginal Labs explained what we were about to embark upon, artists using bright markers wrote words and phrases and drew images and other graphics reflecting Rob’s words and participants’ questions and answers, until they filled the entire board.  All the while everything was being filmed and everyone could see the writings on the board close up as the cameras zoomed in on sections and they appeared on the two video monitors.

Among the writings noted were:  the positives and negatives of models; must be aware of pitfalls of modeling, but models are necessary, serve a purpose, re-imagine how things can be different; Groundswell digital training for social change; importance of local congregation involvement in movements for social change; change starts from within; taking a stand allows perspective, and is different from taking a position; stand allows other positions to be heard; movement comes from taproot alignment; taking a stand includes perpetrator as well as victim; need to heal both.

Using the interactive and iterative Design Shop process, our time together consisted of three phases: Scan, Focus and Act.  Milestones for each phase are:

At the end of Scan Phase:
  • Build knowledge and trust in the room with each other
  • Learn about the aspirations and vision of each participant - - as an individual leader and their respective organizations
  • Better understand the conditions and landscape - - current state/future state  - - of the multifaith religious movement for social justice
  • Better articulate the key opportunities and barriers that need to be embraced and navigated
  • Begin to have developed some hypothesis for a way forward
  • Be intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and politically keen to continue the journey

At the end of the Focus Phase:
  • Explore potential options of intersectional collaboration through design thinking and model building
  • Establish key criteria and filters that govern decision framework for commitment, collaboration and action
  • Attain level of consensus as to the key elements of the way forward including the challenges that need to be tangled with
  • Clear picture of the assets and attributes that the different participants bring to the new Design

At the end of the Act Phase:
  • Articulated landscape for what the ecosystem for social justice can look like
  • Charter for a new WOW (way of working)
  • Detailed framework on how the participants will work together and resource the way forward
  • Individualized framework for each participant on specific collaboration opportunities in 2013
  • Communication strategy to stakeholders

Throughout the next days we broke up into about twelve groups meeting in “chat rooms” formed by reconfigured whiteboards.  Each chat room was named for a mountain – Kailash, Shasta, Uluru, Sinai, Fuji, Everest, Kilimanjaro, Table, Lookout, Machu Pichu, Everest, Ararat.  Prominently displayed on a little shelf at each whiteboard stood an iPad with the time on it: 30 minutes, counting down by seconds until the ends of each session.

In addition to the main meeting area and the various chat rooms, two prayer/meditation rooms, one for women and one for men, adjoined the main open room, with doors that could be closed.

We began in a chat room considered to be our “home community.”  This allowed us to talk with fewer people to begin to become acquainted with each other and to know our primary areas of interest.  We were given lists prepared by a design team of nine (Caitlin Breedlove, Carolyn Buck Luce, Rob Evans, Rev. Jacqueline Lewis, Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, Rev. John Vaughn, Ari Wallach, and Beth Zemsky), who decided on the particular composition of each group.  With each change of topic and purpose, we participants were provided with a paper indicating in which room we met and with whom; thus, groupings changed.

For our first chat rooms after we met with our home communities, we were free to choose from among the following:  Creating “Collective” Impact; SONG – Bridge-Building for the Long Term; Evangelical Immigration Table; Making Multi-Faith Work; Health Ecosystems The Soul of Money; Growing Your Digital Village Elder; Making Something Go Viral; Scaling Campaigns; Lessons from Faith Organizing for Marriage Equality; and Activating Millennials.  Although there were several I found compelling, I could only choose one, so I attended “Growing Your Digital Village Elder.”  Everything in this talk by Carolyn Buck Luce I found informative; however, the strongest and most helpful phrase used was “collaborative intelligence,” a form of understanding that arises from the interactivity that digital communication fosters.

There’s so much more to tell about this event.  I’m finding myself reviewing things in my mind and revising, expanding and gaining new insights as I digest the experience.  This is only the first of a series of blogs about MountainTop.  Stay tuned for more.

In service to Coventina,
Aline "Macha" O'Brien

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Resource from US Government: response to gunmen in houses of worship

I just think it is excellent news that our federal government (USA) has addressed the issue of shooters and violence in religious settings. How can we best prepare ourselves and our community for the possibility of violence in sacred space? What do we need to know? -M. Mueller

From Parliament of the World's Religions blog....

Run, Hide, or Fight

First U.S. Government Guide Released For Confronting Gunmen in Houses of Worship

June 20, 2013

On Tuesday, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden announced thegovernment's first guidebook instructing faith congregations to prepare for an armed shooter situation.  Speaking at an emergency preparedness event on gun violence, Biden detailed the 38-page document's purpose in response to the recent rash of gun tragedies in school and faith settings.  The "Guide for Developing High Quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship" outlines strategies to appoint and train congregation members on: 

  • assigning congregation members to assess immediate threats,
  • determining the best places for shelter and useful hiding spots
  • identifying who should run, who should hide, and who should fight back
  • planning effective evacuations in the event of an armed gun attack
  • depicting "scenarios" and considering response options in advance 
  • developing survivor mindset to increase the odds of surviving
Read more here:

Pacific School of Religion creates "Change-Maker" Fellowship for Person of Color, FULL YEAR tuition covered!

I am delighted to see this announcement from PSR. Many of you know my service in interfaith is through education and the seminaries. This marks progress for Pagans and religious liberals interested in diversifying our world and dismantling race and class problems to broaden the table. Do you know a change-maker that meets these criteria? Stay tuned for more info or contact directly any of be signers of the following letter!

-Michelle Mueller




We write today to ask you to nominate someone you know for a new and excitingfellowship at PSR that will bring as many as fifteen students of color to our campus for one year of study as PSR Change-Maker Fellows.  As you may know, this past year PSR’s board, faculty, staff, students, and alums have been engaged in creating a new vision to more fully realize our institutional mission of educating leaders for social transformation both within and beyond the church and academy.


This ongoing work at PSR has led our Board of Trustees to create the Change-Maker Fellowship Program as one way of living into our new vision.  Approved by the Board in April, our new vision states that PSR will equip leaders who are compelled by their own spiritual formation and practice, who are rooted in Christian theological traditions, and who have the skills to lead justice-driven change in churches, institutions, communities, and individual lives.


Through this fellowship program we hope to bring to campus deserving and promising individuals who are themselves current or potential “change-makers” in their contexts but who might never consider PSR because of the high costs of tuition. We are also using this opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to increase the racial/ethnic diversity of our community.

This cohort of Change-Maker Fellows will be made up of current or potential “change-makers” in communities of faith and society at large who would benefit greatly from one year of theologically-grounded immersive learning opportunities.

Here are some details of this new fellowship for the 2013-2014 Academic Year:

·         Successful candidates for this fellowship (which is worth up to $16,320 in financial support) will be students of color who meet the admissions criteria of PSR and are nominated as active or potential “change-makers” by a professor, campus, religious, or community leader, employer, or program director with first-hand knowledge of the candidate.

·         Change-Maker Fellows will receive full tuition support for up to 24 credits of on-campus coursework during the 2013-2014 Academic Year.  (At this time, this program is not open to distance learners.)

·         These fellows will take part in a variety of additional offerings including cohort and immersion learning experiences that focus on social transformation.  The fellows will also be mentored by PSR faculty members who will meet regularly with the group for engaged reflection as well as academic and vocational advising.

·         At the end of the year, fellows may receive a Certificate in Theological Studies or another of our certificates for which they qualify. They may also apply for admission for one of PSR’s regular Master’s degree programs for the following year and be eligible to apply for financial aid and merit awards.

Because of who and where you are, we hope that you will nominate at least one individual for this innovative year of study at PSR.  Think of someone you know who would benefit from a year of creative and critical immersion learning opportunities.  Nominate people who are committed to living out their faith and spirituality by creating positive change in communities of faith and in the world.


Ours is a seminary community of diverse and creative individuals who are committed to living out our faith in bold ways and who are deeply committed to living as members of a diverse network of “change-makers” moved by the spirit of the Gospel.  Help us to bring to our community next year people who will join with us in this exciting venture as PSR’s first class of Change-Maker Fellows!




Bishop Yvette Flunder

Trustee, Pacific School of Religion

Presiding Bishop, The Fellowship


Donaldson Hill

Trustee, Pacific School of Religion

Minister and Team Leader for Financial Development

Office of General Ministries, United Church of Christ


Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo

Trustee, Pacific School of Religion

Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ


Connie K.Y. Fong Mitchell

Trustee, Pacific School of Religion

Executive Director, The Institute of Human Services, Inc., Honolulu, Hawaii


Bernard S. Schlager, PhD

Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Pacific School of Religion