Working Together — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Working Together


Working Together
Friday, September 20, 2019

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. — Shared by Lilla Watson [1]

In our Living School, we emphasize contemplative solidarity with those who are marginalized or oppressed. Authentic solidarity involves a pilgrimage of voluntary displacement from our position(s) of privilege—whether that be class, race, gender, physical ability, nationality, religion—and appreciation for traits that our culture deems not “normal” or valuable. Only through relationships can I discern what kind of service is really needed, if I’m the one to offer it, and whose needs I am meeting. It’s not about “I’m helping you” but “We’re walking and learning together.”

We must avoid the temptation to play “savior” because we think we know best. Movements like Campaign Nonviolence and Poor People’s Campaign address intersecting forms of oppression like poverty, racism, environmental destruction, and militarism. [2] Their work is guided by deep connections with those who are suffering and centers the margins.

Some of our nonviolent heroes were far from perfect. While living in apartheid South Africa, Gandhi experienced discrimination because of his skin color and Indian heritage, yet it took years for him to have the same concern for black South Africans as he did for his people. As a young man, Gandhi actually supported empire and colonialism. He learned and grew by making mistakes and by being in relationship.

One of our Living School teachers, Barbara Holmes, points out that ways of fighting for justice have necessarily evolved. While the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) and the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLMM) “both resist oppression with contemplative practices and activism, they use different strategies and leadership models and seek different goals.” [3] Holmes continues:

During the CRM, the blindness of dominant culture to the plight of the African American community meant that the message had to be delivered by one voice in language that white Americans could understand and support. Lives were at stake, and [Martin Luther] King’s biblical and patriotic references combined with his soaring oratory ignited the nation and inspired the movement.

Now, fifty plus years after the CRM, another approach is needed, and the BLMM like the LGBTQIA justice movements are updating the art of contemplative confrontation and noncompliance with the status quo . . . oppression and violence against black bodies. Today, the most respectable image that young protesters can offer is their authenticity, resolute voices, and pride in community and culture. . . . The BLMM uses disruption for transformation rather than the predictable politeness and political compromises that were part of the ordinary negotiations of social activists. [4]

In response to the violence, the BLMM disrupts everyday life. They block traffic and refuse to allow “business as usual.” The response is not riot or violence, it is the twenty-first-century version of the sit-in. CRM activists got parade permits and stayed along the side of the road so as not to interfere with traffic. BLM activists “shut it down” with song, putting their bodies on the line. [5]

I, Richard, know such teaching is very threatening to most of white and middle-class America. But we must ask ourselves what suffering “business as usual” has caused many humans. Recall a schema I often use: order —> disorder —> reorder. Much of our “order” has been founded on injust social structures and is not the order of God. Human laws are superseded by divine commandments, but then of course we must pay the price of fines, imprisonment, loss of friendships, etc. Exactly what Jesus promised!

[1] Lilla Watson, “Recognition of Indigenous Terms of Reference,” Keynote Address at “A Contribution to Change: Cooperation Out of Conflict Conference: Celebrating Difference, Embracing Equality,” Hobart, Tasmania (September 21-24, 2004). She identifies this slogan as a collective statement from activists working in Brisbane in the 1970s.

[2] Learn more about Campaign Nonviolence at and Poor People’s Campaign at

[3] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 146.

[4] Ibid., 147-148, 154.

[5] Ibid., 150.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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