LEADING IN DIFFICULT TIMES, Conversations Among the Clergy of San Mateo County, CA

2792b2bb-5918-4580-bf07-9355acdf4291It’s not poetry but it’s important.  As we struggle to understand, to digest pending or potential changes with the new U.S. administration, to figure out what we can do to help insure stability and to ease the pain of others, those who nurture our spiritual lives are struggling with the same questions.  Through interfaith collaboration clergy support one another, coming together in conversation, in protest and in solidarity as they stand in the love of our country, all people and the world.

img_2075On Wednesday, November 30, 2016, twenty-five clergy representing Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism and Christianity responded to a call to meet for a working lunch at the Congregational Church of San Mateo to discuss Leading in Difficult Times. I was a butterfly on the wall with the good fortune to listen in.

They discussed the same concerns and fears that you are writing about in your poems, essays and editorials: scapegoating, suppression of free speech, immigration policy that will split families and is creating anxiety among children, Islamophobia, empowerment, economic distress, women’s rights and violence by individuals or orchestrated violence in the community/country.

One rabbi pointed out, “The to-do list for the world … we never imagined so much would be pressing us with the same sense of urgency. How do you know what to do first? With all that needs to be done, how do we make sure no one is left behind and that we don’t take away the dignity of others in our process? … How do we juggle all the needs?”

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?
it answered
excerpt from “what they did yesterday afternoon”  Warsan Shire

Just as we ponder how to support one another in our art and activism, our clergy explored the ways in which they can support one another in their roles as spiritual leaders.

  • Show up for each other and stand by the values we share.
  • Keep the spark alive. Hear the spark, the spiritual spark, hopefulness and joy.
  • Create a safe place to talk about personal journeys relative to the times.
  •  Encourage one another in a clear sense of values and priorities … to act the way our traditions dictate and God wants. Stay grounded in a place of values and faith.
  • The heart has a need for practical things to do; we can echo the sorts of things other faith groups are doing so we can collaborate.

They explored faith at the intersection of shared values, the same values we share through The BeZine and under the banner of 100,000 Poets for Change.

  • Love of all humankind and the value of nonviolence.
  • Dignity and worth of all people.
  • Hope that all places of worship can be a safe space for everyone.
  • The value of listening.
  • The value of acting to move through the whole project without stopping.
  • The value of not leaving people behind. Blessing and curses go together so where there is a curse there’s a blessing and we create the blessing.
  • The sanctity of speech.
  • Concern for the poor and disadvantaged.


“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt

After the clergy meeting I attended a similar discussion among the members of my own congregation.  We broke out into groups to explore and agree on actions for a specific areas of concern: environment/climate change, racism and Islamophobia, women’s rights and immigration. I was in the group on immigration, where priorities are the school children now living in fear of being separated from parents or sent back to countries where their lives are at risk, the 65,000 undocumented youth graduating from high school each year and having conditional status in the States under The Dream Act*, and the brutality and aggression faced by illegal immigrants escaping violence in their countries of origin as they are rounded up for deportation by ICE officials. There is special interest in the Sanctuary Movement and making our church sanctuary. We are already a “Welcoming” community.

These have been among my activities as I took some time away from writing and poetry to think about what promises to be a different sort of world. We might have a long haul ahead of us and though . . .

The task [may not be ours] to complete,
. . . neither are [we] free to desist from it. Rabbi Nachman

* These are children who are culturally American and bilingual with only a tenuous connection to their countries of origin.

Clerics interested in connecting with the Planning Team for the San Mateo clergy group featured here today and professional journalists interested in covering their activities, please contact the Planning Team at clergyhousingsummit2@gmail.com.

These activities are what I think of as “Best Practices.” I share them here because they can be easily adopted by other communities.  I would encourage those of you who are part of our The BeZine: 100,000 Poets for Change Facebook discussion page to share information and/or links to initiatives in your community that might interest others. Our poetry like our prayers must have legs. The Facebook discussion page is one I moderate along with colleagues: American-Israeli poet, Michael Dickel and Rev. Terri Stewart, Associate Pastor at Riverton Park United Methodist Church, Seattle, WA

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something … and what I can do, by the grace of God, I will do.” after Edward Everett Hale by the Sisters of St. Joseph who were my teachers and role models