Reviewing my 2011 report and its statement of 2012 expectations was a useful reminder of how fast the context is shifting and how quickly we must continue to adapt as opportunities shift. Last year at this time, we were in an exploratory mode, scanning for new openings and opportunities to advance the Great Turning. Occupy Wall Street and the openings it created to reshape the economic policy debate drew our attention. But as the election played out, Occupy turned its attention to organizing small local actions largely ignored by media and the election debates remained locked into narrow agendas largely dictated by right wing financial interests.
Meanwhile, a new window of extraordinary opportunity opened to which we responded. For years, I’ve observed that given the depth of the changes required to navigate our way to a New Economy, success will depend on a global awakening to our spiritual nature. Beginning with When Corporations Rule the World, I have noted the barrier to corrective action posed by outdated creation stories that lock us into self-destructive values and false assumptions about the nature of reality and our human role and possibilities.
The opportunity to engage a conversation about our deepest framing stories never seemed to emerge—until this year. Interest in that conversation is emerging with a potential force, energy, and promise well beyond anything I’ve previously experienced. And we are riding the crest of the wave.
Realignment of Strategic Priorities
Our 2011 LEF Board discussions pressed me to review the distinctive nature of the LEF role and contribution and a defining a choice between two contrasting roles:
- Take specific frames and proposals we have generated [for example the NEWGroup Report on money system redesign], translate them into carefully crafted messages and presentations, and communicate them to a broad public audience; or
- Focus on expanding and deepening the larger Earth Community story frame and work with partner organizations to engage relevant conversations as appropriate to their respective audiences.
Both roles are important, but our distinctive competence lies with option 2. The implications are sometimes subtle, but deeply important given we are a tiny organization with a tiny budget devoted to advancing global transformation. Here is how our current strategic transition is playing out.
A Sacred Story for Our Time
These two quotations aptly summarize the challenge to which our newly evolving strategy responds:
As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.
— The Earth Charter
For people, generally, their story of the universe and the human role in the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value….The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of a present situation.”
—Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth
Humanity’s current behavior threatens Earth’s capacity to support life and relegates more than a billion people to lives of destitution. This self-destructive behavior and our seeming inability to change have deep roots in the stories by which we understand the nature and meaning of our existence. Our ability to navigate the cultural and institutional transformation required to achieve a viable human future depends on the articulation and embrace of a new story of the origin, nature, and purpose of creation to guide our way that reflects the fullness of our human experience and knowledge.
The emerging story, as outlined in an essay we will soon launch publically on the YES! Magazine website, features and connects three distinct but interrelated narratives:
- Integral Spirit Cosmology: This narrative recognizes the unity of creation and commonalities among the defining stories of varied religious traditions, bridges the domains of science and religion, and draws from the breadth and depth of human experience and understanding to address creation as a self-organizing process that combines order, chance, learning, and the agency of a distributed integral intelligence.
- Sacred Living Earth: Consistent with the understanding of the Integral Spirit Cosmology, this narrative presents Earth as an intelligent living organism with an extraordinary resilience and capacity to learn, adapt, and innovate as it creates the conditions necessary to the emergence of ever more complex, capable, intelligent, self-aware, and cooperative life forms.
- Living Earth Economies: Consistent with the understanding of a Sacred Living Earth, this narrative frames a vision of and pathway to the culture and institutions of a New Economy that works in integral union with Earth biosphere to meet our human needs, bring our species into Earth balance, and secure the health and vitality of the larger Earth Community.
The essay is titled “Religion, Science, and Spirit: A Sacred Story for Our Time” and its initial limited private circulation has generated quite an extraordinary response. I’m learning that it makes two distinctive contributions: it focuses attention on the structure and dynamic of intelligent self-organization and on the connection between the three narratives. We are working with a number of groups and individuals, as elaborated below, to advance a public conversation further developing and spreading the new story. This will likely be a centerpiece of our work at least through 2014.
The Story behind Our Sacred Story Engagement
In March 2012, I participated in a small international gathering comprised primarily of indigenous environmental leaders to discuss the creation of green economies based on the principles of indigenous wisdom. They spoke of Sacred Earth, the Rights of Nature, and the centrality of these themes to the then upcoming debates of the Rio+20 UN summit on the environment.
Three months later in June, I traveled to Bristol England for a small meeting convened by the Club of Rome to plan a global initiative to raise public consciousness of how society’s framing cultural stories shape society’s values, behavior, and the human course. There I shared a simple version of the three cosmologies [the distant patriarch, the grand machine, and Integral Spirit] framework. Martin Palmer, who hosted our gathering, asked me whether the three cosmologies I outlined are mutually exclusive. My instant response was, “Yes, of course.” As I reflected on his question, however, I came to question my response.
As I began to write up my reflection as a contribution to the proceedings of the Bristol meeting, my thoughts kept coming back to Martin’s question. Might there be a deeper answer? Then I recalled the Hindu story of six blind men groping an elephant and considered the possibility that each of the three cosmologies describes one element of a larger and more complex reality.
I circulated my reflection to participants in the Bristol meeting and to a few other friends and colleagues. The enthusiastic and insightful responses motivated me to develop it further, sharing drafts and receiving further insightful suggestions and reflections through many iterations. We will do a public launch of “Religion, Science, and Spirit: A Sacred Story for Our Time” in early 2013 along with a personal background reflection and excerpts from the related commentaries on the YES! Magazine website.
In the meantime, the essay has already become the centerpiece of a fascinating and very encouraging conversation. While writing the essay, I connected with the Contemplative Alliance and the Temple of Understanding, two influential New York based groups that are reaching far beyond more familiar spiritual and interfaith initiatives to advance an interfaith/interspirit/interscience dialogue virtually identical to the dialogue proposed in “Religion, Science, and Spirit.”
On November 13, the Contemplative Alliance organized a one-day invitational workshop in Washington, DC involving 50 spiritual, interfaith, and environmental in a conversation around the themes of the essay. At their invitation, I facilitated the entire morning session on the critical elements of the story and its implications for redirecting the human course. The Contemplative Alliance is discussing the possibility of organizing a larger gathering in New York City in Spring 2013.
We are in the process of connecting the Temple of Understanding and the Contemplative Alliance with our allies in:
- The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an association of the congregations of Catholic nuns who align openly and affirmatively with the Integral Spirit cosmology. We are exploring the possibility that the LCWR might take the lead on an international conference on the New Story in Fall 2013 hosted by Trinity Wall Street Church.
- The Pachamama Alliance, which has more than 3,500 facilitators engaging tens of thousands of people in over 72 countries and 13 languages in Awaken the Dreamer; Change the Dream symposiums. It is currently in the midst of a planning process to define the next phase of its program. We are engaged in a discussion with the Pachamama leadership on the possibility of making the New Story discussion a centerpiece of their next phase program.
- Historic Trinity Wall Street Church, which has a unique history and symbolic Wall Street location, recognized ecumenical leadership, strong intellectual financial resources, and the communications technology capability to support virtually unlimited numbers of satellite conferences around the world.
Expanding the Team
In February, we named Jacob Bomann-Larsen a Living Economies Forum Fellow to serve as our ambassador to the Scandinavian countries, well known for their progressive leadership on economic policies. Jacob is a Norwegian economist who has been a pioneering advocate for the Living Economy/New Economy framework in Norway for several decades.
Jacob has co-authored or contributed to a number of Norwegian language books on the New Economy and is an experienced speaker. He was a co-founder of The Future in Our Hands, which is the largest non-governmental sustainability organization in Norway. He was also a co-founder of the Norwegian Alternative Future Project, the Norwegian Centre for a New Economy, and the Norwegian Forum for System Debate. See his August 2012 report. http://livingeconomiesforum.org/node/513
For several years, our attention focused on three primary institutional partners we helped to found and cultivate. Each was positioned to advance one element of the three-fold strategy. YES! Magazine has been our primary story change partner. BALLE has been our primary partner on creating a new reality. The New Economy Working Group (NEWGroup) has been our rule change partner. We are now reshaping and expanding our partnership circle and moving from what might be called a high touch, high impact strategy in which our attention was highly focused on these three partners to a light touch, high impact strategy focused on influencing the story frames of a many aligned organizations receptive to our input.
Our Traditional Partners
YES! Magazine, which I continue to serve as board chair, is a recognized major player in the independent media world and continues to grow in reach and influence, particularly through its web and social medial presence. We do not foresee any change in this relationship. Y
The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) has become a strong and stable organization with an established sense of direction, identity, and momentum. The larger local economies movement that BALLE has helped to build is also well established and BALLE no longer requires our active presence. I will rotate off the BALLE board when my current term ends the end of December 2012.
The New Economy Working Group (NEWGroup) is an informal partnership of DC based Institute for Policy Studies, YES!, BALLE, Living Economies Forum, and the Democracy Collaborative, plus Gus Speth. John Cavanagh and I are co-founders and co-chairs. We formed NEWGroup to develop further the frameworks articulated in Alternatives to Economic Globalization and Agenda for a New Economy and advance a shared New Economy vision focusing and connecting the work of policy advocacy groups concerned with peace, justice, and the environment.
John has been drawing an expanding circle of IPS staff into engagement with NEWGroup as part of a process of restructuring IPS around a clear New Economy frame. IPS is developing increasing strength in New Economy policy research and the translation and promotion of the New Economy frame into specific policy proposals. John has earned high respect and trust among progressive policy organizations as a brilliant convener.
Expanding the Partnership Circle
In line with our focus on story change and our light touch, high impact strategy, we are expanding our partnership circle of groups at the leading edge of engaging the Sacred Story/Living Economy themes. Our partners in this adventure, in addition to the groups named above—Contemplative Alliance, Temple of Understanding, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Pachamama Alliance, Trinity Wall Street Church, and Club of Rome—include:
Living Future Institute and its Cascadia Green Building Council subsidiary: I continue to serve as an informal advisor to Jason McLennan, CEO of the Living Future Institute. Jason is one of most creative and influential figures in the building industry and has a passionate commitment to reshaping how the human built environment relates to natural systems. Jason has invited me to offer a workshop on the Integral Cosmology/Sacred Earth at his 2013 Living Future Conference. He is considering the Sacred Story as a possible theme for his 2014 conference. If that is the theme, LEF will likely advise on planning and presentation.
Bhutan Happiness Indicators Working Group: On August 23, 2011, the United Nations adopted a resolution declaring happiness a fundamental human goal and invited the Kingdom of Bhutan to lead a discussion on the topic as a contribution to the United Nations development agenda. In response, the Prime Minister of Bhutan appointed an international working group to elaborate the details of a new development paradigm in which well-being and happiness indicator, not GDP, are the measure of success. By invitation of the Prime Minister, I serve as a member. The Prime Minister has made clear that this is not about adjustments at the margins of the old paradigm. Our charge is to define a new paradigm.
The shift to new indicators is foundational to the transition to a New Economy. Bhutan is the clear world leader on this front and its efforts have attracted world attention. Consequently, the report has considerable potential influence. Unfortunately, the working group is comprised of a mix of new and old paradigm thinkers and there has been no discussion of the key question: by what criteria do we distinguish old and new paradigm solutions? I’m working on a paper for submission to the Working Group addressing this question in the hope it might help shape the process.
South Carolina Coastal Conservation League: I have agreed to be a keynote speaker at their May 2013 25th anniversary Visioning Conference and accepted an invitation to serve on their advisory board. In addition to examining South Carolina’s conservation needs, the goal is to draw national conversation leaders from across the United States into a conversation about the need to reconstitute and revitalize the national environmental movement and “challenge some of the fundamental assumptions that constrain the environmental conversation. This will be an opportunity to spotlight the importance of a bioregional frame and the need to develop one or more bioregional demonstration projects.
Chautauqua Institution: Located in southwestern New York State, it draws more than a 100,000 visitors each summer to a popular nine-week series of performing arts, lecture, and interfaith worship programs. A member of the Chautauqua Institution staff who attended the Contemplative Alliance Workshop in Washington, DC, invited me to be a presenter in their Summer 2013 series on Markets and Morals. I declined, but offered to work with them on designing a New Sacred Story series for the 2014 program. Our contact responded positively to the suggestion and indicated she would discuss it with her colleagues.
Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment (GATE): Gate is a Hollywood based initiative of John Raatz, Echart Tolle, and Jim Carry devoted to engaging the media and entertainment industries in telling stories of transformational possibility. Each year they organize a daylong story conference followed by an evening extravaganza for Hollywood luminaries at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills. Their next conference is February 2, 2013. I’ve accepted an invitation to do a workshop and present on the evening program.
Mondragon USA and the Washington State Labor Council: Michael Peck, who is the USA representative of the Mondragon Cooperatives, is at the forefront of an increasingly successful campaign to engage the U.S. labor movement in promoting cooperative worker ownership and more broadly to re-energize the U.S. cooperatives movement. Worker ownership and cooperative ownership more generally are defining themes of the New Economy vision. We are collaborating with Michael on connecting his initiatives with other elements of the New Economy movement.
National People’s Action (NPA) and Center for Community Change (CCC): NPA and CCC are organizations at the forefront of grassroots organization, with a strong focus on excluded communities of color. Both are at the forefront of bringing the New Economy frame to the fore of their policy advocacy. We are working with both under the auspices of the New Economy Working Group to translate the New Economy vision into a relevant policy framework.
Priorities for 2013
Our current positioning is more coherent and more strongly positioned for influence than at any time since our founding and I expect we will continue to build on this foundation for the indefinite future. Given the dynamic nature of the emerging process, the only thing I know for certain is that how it plays out in 2013 will likely be very different than anything I might currently anticipate.
My immediate priority is to complete the paper on defining the New Paradigm and distribute it to the Bhutan Working Group and beyond.
Unless other critical demands intrude, I intend to do a thorough review of the livingeconomies.org and neweconomyworkinggroup.org sites to bring in the larger New Story frame and elaborate and integrate the three primary narratives. I expect there will be a strong focus on the living Earth and bioregional themes.
My current focus is on web publication, because it offers a combination, of speed, flexibility, and potentially unlimited reach. Depending on how the web update goes, it might possibly provide the basis for a short book.