I was invited by my friends and fellow co-conspirators (Transform) of goodness Steve Knight and Holly Roach to a gathering called the CANA Initiative. The CANA Initiative is being framed as a ‘network of networks’ or a ‘meta-network’. A meta-network seeking to be a hub for collective action and collaboration. Stephanie Spellers, one of the initators holding the space, presented on the last day a promising initiating collaborative description or edited conversation starter for future collective action:
What is CANA?
A collective of Christian leaders, organizations and networks across the United States who collaborate to embody and act on a courageous, liberating and compassionate faith.
There were many individuals and networks present for this gathering. Many important conversations and issues raised by folks like Alexia Salvatierra, Lisa Sharon Harper, Peter Matthews and Brian McLaren around this question:
Who is not here for this initial gathering and conversation?
While there were many great people and networks present and issues raised (I hope to talk about that in a subsequent post) this became one of the dominant themes of the gathering for me. And a big takeaway that must be resolved if we are to truly represent a new Christian wineskin in the United States. In asking that question we were confronted by a deep and long history of white supremacy that has been in existence for several centuries. A white supremacy that has morphed in each generation (think: transatlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, etc.). It is a history that must be worked through, processed, repented of, becoming more self-aware of and not simply dismissed as playing identity politics (a sign of privilege) or by saying I have a few non-white friends. You will know if Mista Charlie is present by who is in the room, who you are speaking on behalf of, and by what you are saying. Don’t be offended by that last statement. It is true.
There was tension in the room when it became apparent that this issue might get skipped again and not addressed in a meaningful way by all the stakeholders present Yet, we broached the issue. I sensed it was uncomfortable for many. You could feel it in the room. While there was a tension there was a very pronounced presence of the Holy Spirit in the room (When Lisa Sharon Harper testified about her work on immigration reform and the impact this issue is having on many of our immigrant sisters and brothers). We almost quenched the Spirit by moving too quickly from Lisa’s testimony. We persisted. I suspect that there is a good reason to be hopeful due to the enormous goodwill and sincerity that was present. However, the next stage will be crucial for this embryonic meta-network. We must attend and intend to how we carry this space from here on out. We can’t jump the track of American history ignoring the necessary deep ongoing work of racial repentance.
We also encountered our own exceptionalism by initially attempting to speak on behalf of the planet by saying we were wanting to be a global meta-network. A globe that was not present at the gathering. By the grace of God and the past spiritual-cultural work of many present we were quickly unblinded by our own global privilege by naming and lovingly owning our own location as the locus of our work: the United States of America.
We were reminded by our brother, Gareth Higgins, that many of us tend to hold the United States at a critical arms length (for often good and honorable reasons) rather than learn and practice a deep love for, be a redemptive presence within and be prophetic voice and witness to the United States. Basically, we must love our country as God loves it yet be prophetic to it as God is wanting more from it than war, inequality and our participating in and complicity with the destruction of the planet.
These are my initial thoughts of the CANA Initiative itself nowhere near an exhaustive commentary. I do want to give a shout out to my new friends Christy and Bryan Berghoef for their hospitality for letting a few of us stay with them in their home for the duration of the gathering. Beautiful folks doing beautiful kingdom of God work in Washington DC. Also, special thanks to the Washington National Cathedral for letting us convene in their space.
Thankful for the leadership of Stephanie Spellers, Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt in giving the rallying call for this much needed meta-network.
There were so many friends present and new friends made. Many great networks present bringing their full attention into the space. Forgive me for not mentioning you and the good work you are doing.
I asked this question during the gathering: what do I tell my friends back home when they ask “who showed up at the table?”
This will be my response: I believe the Spirit showed up in the midst of a well intentioned group of sincere and loving network of people answering a call to be present in the United States as a courageous, liberating, prophetic, justice-seeking and compassionate Christian social witness.
The next step will be crucial…