Religious Leader Voice – Murmurations of Justice: Changing the World Three Feet at a Time

By Pastor Phil Ruge-Jones, Grace Lutheran Church

One of my favorite authors writing about transforming the world is adrienne maree brown (she, like bell hooks, opts not to use capital letters in her name.) She asks, “…how do we, who know the world needs to change, begin to practice being different? How do we have to be for justice to truly be transformational?” (Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing the World, 164).

Part of her answer is we live for it together. We speak from our depths to each other and listen from the most profound places in our hearts and then we move in coordination.

We have been struggling as a global community to move forward and do it together – to create the world we want to see and not become angry or complacent or paralyzed.

Picture of a middleaged woman (Carrie Newcomer) holding and reading from a book, standing next to a guitar.
Picture of a middleaged woman (Carrie Newcomer) holding and reading from a book, standing next to a guitar.

Last November, Carrie Newcomer sang her delightful brand of hopeful, truthful music at a JONAH sponsored concert held at Grace Lutheran where I am pastor. She offered us a spiritual feast of insights, wisdom, mirth, and melody. She also spoke powerfully of the challenges that face us without becoming cynical about them.

I felt like a man who only realized how hungry he was as he began to eat the delights spread out on a table before him. In between songs, she’d tell us stories that had us leaning in to catch every word.

One of my favorites was of a child who asked one of his adults what he could do to change the world. She said changing the world is a pretty tall order so don’t get overwhelmed, focus on the three feet around you. That story inspired Newcomer’s song “Three Feet or So.”

Of course, with social distancing we had to extend that three feet distance to nine for a time! But still, change in the world is fueled by coming together in order to change the world. It often happens a few people at a time.

If I made the life better for seven people close to me, and those seven continued that same dynamic outward, and their recipients did the same, in five repetitions over 2400 people would be impacted. Another three times forward and we’d be fast approaching a million people whose lives were made better. OK, there would be some repeated recipients, but you get the point.

Newcomer shared her friend Parker Palmer’s wisdom about hope. I didn’t have a pen to jot down the exact quotation, but she said something like hope is living between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-it-could-and-should-be in such a way that the space between them becomes smaller.

In other words, as we listen intently to each other about the deep dreams the Spirit is stirring in us, the distance between each other becomes smaller and so the distant future we long for also draws nearer. Carrie Newcomer has this transformative effect using her music as the vehicle, but she is not urging us all to pick up a guitar.

We each might discover in conversation with each other what instruments we are gifted to pick up in order to make the world a better place. JONAH provides us with such a space of discovery and discernment. JONAH provides the community with a place to find hope and support among others who are looking for transformation.

With a future envisioned, and always open to revision as circumstances shift, we respond together. adrienne maree brown looks to nature lovers for models of this transformation and borrows Sierra Picket’s metaphor that resonates with “three feet around”: “Starlings’ murmuration (the mechanism they use to fly together) consists of a flock moving in synch with one another, engaging in clear consistent communication and exhibiting collective leadership and deep, deep trust. Every individual bird focuses attention on their seven closest neighbors and thus manage a larger flock cohesiveness and synchronicity (at times of over a million birds” (67).

The way we move forward together should itself reflect where we hope the journey will end. adrienne maree brown insists that the “strongest solutions happen through the process, not in a moment at the end of the process” (223).

I invest in JONAH because I believe it facilitates our movement, our murmurations.