Initiate & everyone leads

To initiate means: 1) to begin, to set in action; 2) to instruct in the rudiments or principles of something.
To lead means: 1) to go before, or with, to show the way; 2) to conduct by holding and guiding; 3) to influence, induce, or cause; 4) to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.

Too often we associate leadership and leading with the exercise of power over others through structural authority created by hierarchies.  But power is never limited to those on top of an organizational chart.  Everyone has real power and people may choose to follow a leader, supervisor, or manager.  The authoritarian and heroic leadership mindset may be adequate for managing and solving most technical problems.  However, it is a liability when it comes to overcoming complex adaptive challenges.

New models of leading are emerging.  The younger generations’ have different expectations about engagement and leadership.  Traditional distinctions between leaders and followers are becoming obstacles to solving complex problems..  People are learning to work in highly connected ways, sharing ideas, information, and contacts.  People are learning to exercise their power and lead in more distributed, relational, and interdependent ways. 

Learning to lead with a network mindset is more complex than acquiring new technical skills or knowledge.  Many leadership programs continue to explicitly or implicitly promote the model of heroic, individually centered leadership that undervalues collective or collaborative behaviors.  To catalyze social change work in ways that produce major impacts, we need to transform leadership development. 

To support an ‘everyone leads’ or collective leadership mindset, we need to cultivate leadership according to the following principles:

  • Connecting and weaving.  Intentionally introducing and linking people, strengthening their bonds, and building bridges among diverse groups.
  • Self-organizing action.  People feel authorized to take action.
  • Learning that embraces risk-taking.  Rapid-cycle prototyping solutions and adaptation.

Leadership Development strategies that work:

  • Convening processes that build relationships across boundaries.
  • Cultivating and practicing collective action, co-leadership, and a network mindset.
  • Questioning and disrupting deeply held leadership assumptions – especially those that promote one person as the leader that others follow.
  • Facilitating action learning in groups; encouraging a spirit of experimentation, risk-taking, and accountability.
  • Build and invest in communities of learning and practice including online collaborative tools. 
  • Introduce resources, skills, and tools for leading in complex systems; develop big picture systems thinking including understanding the levers for systemic change. 
  • Walk the talk.  Give up some control in favor of encouraging participants as co-designers of their development experience.

Robyn Morrison is a collective leading development practitioner who initiates, facilitates, and engages diverse people to grow as networked leaders.  She is committed to strengthening our collective capacity to create innovative solutions to wicked systemic challenges by engaging everyone in leading. 


Who creates the vision?

In Learning to Lead, leadership guru Warren Bennis claimed there are four competencies of leadership.

  1. Mastering the context.
  2. Knowing yourself.
  3. Creating a powerful vision.
  4. Communicating with meaning.

Although all four of these competencies have a different flavor for CoLeaders than traditional leaders, the one that I find most challenging is creating a powerful vision. This assumes a top-down approach to leadership and followership. I sense that one element of the crisis of leadership and followership is this self-centered approach.

The culture is changing.

Take President Obama for example. In 2008 masses of young people rallied to support his candidacy in part because of his message, “Change we can believe in.” His book, The Audacity of Hope, also inspired people. Obama’s vision was broad and bold. His followers wanted to hope that things would change. But did they?

I try not to criticize any singular human being, especially someone serving as The President of the United States. President Obama made promises that the political system did not allow him to keep. He has been transformed by the personal responsibility he has borne as President.

However, has Obama really changed much of anything in our culture? Yes, the economy has recovered (in some ways). The rich got richer. The bankers benefitted the most. Democracy is even more threatened than it was before 2008. Voting rights are more restrictive. Women’s’ reproductive freedoms have lost ground in many parts of our country. Racism is more visible.

What happened to the millions of young people who joined the Obama for President movement? Did some of them end up joining the occupy Wall Street movement? Will they vote for the next Democrat candidate?

Will they vote for Hillary Clinton?  Personally, I doubt it. They may not vote at all.

In the past eight years a growing minority of our culture has become increasingly cynical about leaders, politics, and institutions. How do we shift this cynicism into activism?

In the past, I have been the leader effectively casting a vision for others to follow. I learned valuable lessons. If I have positional power and cast a vision, even if people follow that vision, it is only effective as long as I succeed as the leader. As someone who disrupts and undermines hierarchies, I cannot count on maintaining positional authority. Those who have power over me replace me because I threaten the hierarchy. The next person in the position does not sustain my vision – they cast their own vision.

I am certain other leaders will continue to cast their own vision and expect others to follow. This style of leadership may continue to dominate our culture for the remainder of my lifetime.  I hope this is not the case.

I recommend that people with an interest in transforming organizations or systems read, The Three Laws of Performance. Although the book focuses primarily on transforming organizations and contexts, it is also an excellent book for people interested in collaborative leadership.

The Three Laws of Performance also has three leadership corollaries. One is particularly pertinent to a conversation about vision. “Leaders listen for the future of their organization.” This flips the conventional wisdom about leadership and vision upside down. Leaders don’t cast the vision. Leaders don’t create the future of their organization. Leaders listen.

What conventional wisdom teaches – leaders must create and then cast the vision – is outdated and ineffective.

What if the world really needs a good listening to? What if people inside any organization have a great deal to contribute to the future of the organization? What if collective leadership is the best way to deal with a complex, volatile, and uncertain world?

CoLeaders listen for the future. We believe that the future can be better than the present. Yet, CoLeaders are not so arrogant that they think their vision is the only answer to the needs of the world (or even our family, workplace, or community needs).

We are each just one piece in a giant puzzle that can create a more beautiful, just, compassionate, peaceful, and sustainable world. I am just one piece. I do not have the complete picture.

Our CoLeader Connection is a place where we can bring our small pieces of the global vision together. Together we will listen for a more beautiful and compassionate future.

Feel free to share your piece of the vision in the comments.




Questions for rebel leaders?

As my social and environmental consciousness has deepened, I have become more of a rebel. Rebels feel at home in movements dedicated to cultural transformation. I am not alone in my progression from “liberal strategist” to rebel catalyst. In my studies of the evolution of leadership, I understand it is the evolutionary path.

I have always struggled with leadership; which is probably why I have spent so much time and money learning everything that I can about leading and leadership. From as far back as my high school days, I have also had a desire to teach and develop other leaders. Because the culture of leadership is going through a paradigm shift, my ideas about leading and developing leaders have evolved. Now, I find myself at the fringe of the huge multi-billion dollar industry[i] developing a new social enterprise to support an emerging style of leadership.

As an alchemist and rebel, I have journeyed through the various transformations of leadership (Torbert) and I understand the process, what worked, and what did not work. I have developed a deep curiosity and commitment to being a part of a community of practice with others who share my commitment to cultural transformation.

One question that truly engages my imagination is this:

Given the failures of leadership and the masses of people who are rebelling against authoritarian leaders, how do we reclaim the language of leading and transform the culture of leading?

I have experienced leadership development training programs within several systems or sectors: financial services, corporate, community development, nonprofit, religious leadership, and nonviolence movements. My Master of Divinity degree focused on spiritual leadership. My current Master of Transformative Leadership is the most progressive leadership education program I have experienced, and still I find myself on the fringe. Yes, I am a rebel, even among those who are passionate about leadership development.

Another question I wrestle with is how do we nurture and support rebel leaders? I believe the inquiry and exploration of this paradox is important to a number of movements involved in saving the earth and creating a world that works for everyone (all creatures).

There are a number of pilot projects and studies exploring aspects of this question. A handful of progressive foundations are funding studies of coleadership, collective leading, shared leading, and distributed leadership. A 2002 report to the Annie Casey Foundation[ii], reported that leaders of social change nonprofits and programs disdain advanced degrees and believe existing management and leadership programs are irrelevant to their type of work. They are interested in applied learning and new organizational structures that will support their social change work.[iii]

The Create, Initiate, Engage: Our CoLeader Connection is a brand new (still in the formation stage) community of practice for rebel leaders.

One of our biggest challenges is overcoming preconceived ideas related to the language: leading, leaders, and leadership. Rebels are rising up against authoritarian leaders in all sectors of our global culture. The words (leading, leader, leadership) are incendiary for many rebels. Our words (more specifically the meaning we assign to words) create our worldview.

The distinction “CoLeader” is essential. Our CoLeader connection is not about an individual process of developing the capacity to exercise power over others. There is an abundance of conventional leadership programs that continue to try to shape leaders for a style of leadership that no longer works (see previous blog posts about the failure of leadership and followership).

My question for readers is this: How do we reclaim the language of leading in ways that creates a culture where everyone leads? Do we need new words? If so, please share the language that works for you.




[i] According to January 2014 report by McKinsey & Company, U.S. Companies alone spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development.

[ii] Frances Kunreuther. Generational Changes and Leadership: Implications For Social Change Organizations

[iii] This is the work that Create, Initiate, and Engage is doing with social movement programs and organizations. We use leading edge (fringe) strategies and frameworks designed to release and support shared power and cultural transformation.

Trusting ourselves and others

At the heart of the crisis of leadership and followership is the underlying crisis in trust. Less than one in five people believe their leaders (in business or government) will tell the truth especially about challenging issues.[i] How can we possibly overcome the challenges facing us globally and locally without trust?

One interesting factor discovered in studies of trust is that there is a paradigm shift going on; we are twice as likely to trust our peers, as we are anyone we perceive as a positional leader. This is an even stronger generational trend (younger generations trust their peers more than Baby Boomers).

This trend confirms my belief that the culture of leadership is shifting towards shared leadership. Another interesting trend is that small businesses and smaller organizations are trusted more than large corporations or institutions.

One of the challenges facing Our CoLeader Connection is repairing trust in the activities needed to lead others towards a shared vision and purpose. The Occupy movement was an example of the challenge in organizing a nonviolent movement for economic justice generated by people who rebel against any form of positional leadership. Is that sustainable?

I believe we have considerable work to do before everyone has the capacity to lead. Our families, educational system, and workplaces are not educating and developing people to claim their personal power to change these very systems… they are focused more on shaping conformity to existing systems and institutions.

In addition, research into stages of human development indicates there is a need for vertical development. Vertical development refers to an evolution or transformation in an individual’s mindset. The outcome of vertical development or transformative learning is the ability to think in increasingly interdependent, integrated, complex, systemic, and strategic ways.

Looking back on my own development through the transformations of my ‘self’ as a leader, I understand the ways I use my personal power have changed. I may have valued shared power earlier in my journey, but I have only recently developed the ability to assess complex power differentials (and complex rankism). I understand the diverse mindsets that shape how individuals exercise power. I understand how our experiences and our heredity shape our consciousness. I am more able to adapt and be flexible in my own use of power. I finally feel that I have the capacity to engage in CoLeading and Shared leadership.

How could a CoLeader community of practice accelerate the vertical development or personal transformations that are needed to truly change our culture of organizing human effort for shared purposes?

My hope is that we are becoming a catalyst (accelerator) and alchemist (blending diversity) – a community of practice capable of being a powerful force for cultural transformation.







My personal co-leadership philosophy

pacifica beachAs I write this post, I am on the beach in Pacifica, California. I am here to participate in my fourth California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) Transformative Leadership intensive (retreat). This program  has been beneficial for my personal transformation. It has helped me to identify and articulate my personal philosophy for leading. Although I have been a “leader”, I now consider myself to be a co-leader. I will exercise my ability to lead when the context, situation, and people need me to lead. The following is a philosophy statement that helps to explain my insistence on shifting my ways of being to show up as a co-leader rather than a “leader” (as defined by the dominant culture).

Leading is:

  • For everyone. There are no genuine leaders without willing followers. The true sign of a leader is their ability to create contexts wherein others are able to use their leadership abilities.
  • Chaotic and complex. The world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Leaders have a role to guide and lead people through chaos and complexity. To lead is to become comfortable acting without certainty. To lead is to embrace the creative possibilities of chaos.
  • Contextual and provisional. Although positional authority is often necessary to organize human endeavors, it is always important to acknowledge that commanding people is not leadership it is dominance. Genuine leadership is granted by the people being lead or organized. Positional leadership is granted in order to accomplish shared goals, or in response to a shared vision (a context). When positional power is abused, people will replace their leaders, or they will refuse to be influenced by, or follow, those with power.
  • Emergent and divergent. The ability to lead rises out of the passion and commitments of people. Leadership naturally emerges from within groups of people. Everyone has an innate ability to lead. When the context is ripe, when enough people are passionate about making a difference or changing something, leaders emerge to organize human efforts. If there is a vacuum in leadership, a leader will emerge. Leadership is also divergent. There is no right way or wrong way, no single style, no clearly defined traits or attributes of those who lead. Leaders can lead people towards destructive actions or positive constructive actions.
  • Relational, dynamic, and perichoretic. One can be commanding and controlling without being in love with people, but one cannot be a genuine leader without knowing how to form and sustain dynamic relationships. To be perichoretic (borrowed from Christian Trinitarian theology) is to be engaged in dynamic relationships that allow the unique individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that the group of people also share their lives (diversity in unity). That leading is perichoretic means a community of being is created through the act of leading. There is no separation and yet there is diversity.
  • Mysterious and mythical. There is something in human nature that creates legends and myths. Leadership rises out of mythical ways of knowing. Leading is not always logical or sensible. It is important to acknowledge the limits of our conscious thoughts, and to welcome the wisdom of our subconscious. Growing as a leader is a process of many transformations in consciousness. In the higher levels of human development, we are less attached to our ego and basic survival needs, and more concerned about the well being of all creation.

What is leadership to you?  How do you lead?  Do you prefer to follow, or to lead?  Do you have a philosophy of leading, or leadership?  Please share your comments.


Evolving beyond ‘pack animals’ (part two)

Jonathan Haidt wrote about the hivishness (or ‘pack animal’ nature) of human beings in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. My opinion of this book is mixed, yet Haidt’s work provides a useful perspective for understanding why conservatives and liberals have polarized mindsets.  Haidt identified six moral foundations and two of the six shed light on my questions about our need for hierarchies of authority.
1.     Liberty/oppression: the loathing of abusive authority or tyranny.
2.     Authority/subversion: respect for, and obeying authority.

To keep it brief (at the risk of oversimplification), conservatives tend to value authority over liberty – liberals value liberty over authority.  Some humans strongly prefer hierarchies, and some resist authority and prefer freedom and liberty.  In reality, these two moral foundations are balanced and integrated differently in different people.  For example: Libertarians prefer freedom from authority; many are not capable of genuine co-leadership because they will not share power.  In order to be an effective co-leader and collaborator, one needs to be willing and able to follow as well as lead, one needs to respect other co-leaders.

Haidt’s academic area is evolutionary moral psychology.  His research demonstrated that people inherit much of their moral foundation.  Humanity has evolved; as humans became increasingly social, the struggle for survival, mating and progeny depended less on physical abilities and more on social abilities. We learned not only to dominate but also to cooperate.  Domination and hierarchical forms of authority have heavily influenced some cultures and families; others have learned to value freedom, liberty, and shared power.  That is one reason we are so divided.

Some people have evolved beyond their need for a dominant alpha pack leader, some have not.

I am not sure how authority/liberty moral foundations and Haidt’s concepts of conservative and liberal correlate to this week’s partisan politics.  The Republicans could not choose one leader to deliver their response to the President’s State of the Union address; there were five responses.  What does this say about obedience to authority from conservatives?

Both political parties are divided, but the conservatives (Republicans) seem to be increasingly influenced by a libertarian energy – no government, no authority granted to positional leaders.  At the same time they are clinging to sexism, racism, and rankism.

Most of Haidt’s research for The Righteous Mind predated the emergence of the Tea Party.  The emergence of the Tea Party comes with a simultaneous anti-authoritarian, libertarian, and patriarchal energy.  Is this simply a complex push-back response to the paradigm shift in our leadership culture?  Is it a sign that even the conservatives are beginning to abandon their need for authoritarian leaders?

Please share your thoughts.

Evolving beyond ‘pack animals’ (part one)

We are in the process of integrating a six-month-old English Springer Spaniel named Micah into our family. We also have a six-year-old English Springer Spaniel named Isaiah. Isaiah spent the first six years of his life in our family with our older Sheltie (Mocha) who passed away shortly before we adopted the new puppy.

Shelties are work dogs. They instinctively herd other animals, so Mocha felt his job was to shepherd Isaiah. English Springer Spaniels (ESS) love to run freely, so the two worked out their respective household (or pack) roles. Mocha’s job was to keep Isaiah out of trouble. Whether they were on leash or off leash, Isaiah was always a step ahead of Mocha.

Mocha and Isaiah were devoted and faithful companions to each other, and to my husband and I. We often care for other family dogs managing up to five dogs at a time. There were minor conflicts between the dogs over toys, but generally they established their own roles and responsibilities, and pecking order.

We thought bringing home a new puppy of the same breed as Isaiah would help Isaiah because he was grieving the absence of his buddy, Mocha. We chose another ESS because we thought they would love to do most of the same things; run, swim, chase balls, go for walks.

Micah joins our family

Micah joins our family

I failed to understand that dogs are still instinctively hierarchical pack animals. Mocha exerted ‘authority’ over Isaiah when he was a young puppy, and then he let Isaiah develop as a ‘peer’ in the pack. When we brought a puppy home, Isaiah exhibited aggressive behavior towards Micah. I reacted as though aggression was unacceptable. I just thought they ought to be friends and play cooperatively, including sharing toys and sharing our attention. The pressure built up and within three days Isaiah attacked Micah and bit him hard enough to draw a tiny bit of blood.

Shocked and very concerned that we had made a huge mistake adopting Micah, I began to research ‘problem’ dogs. Although there is a great deal of conflicting information online about dog training, I found a book that made sense to me, The Dog Listener. The author, Jan Fennel, raises English Springer Spaniels (among many other breeds). Fennel refreshed my memory; dogs are pack animals. More important, dog packs are hierarchies. At the top of the dog hierarchy there are alpha leaders (one male, one female) with other levels of leadership for pack members. The pack survives or thrives because dogs know their role and responsibility within the pyramid.

Given my passion for non-hierarchical styles of leadership, I wanted to resist the book’s recommendation that I assert myself as the pack leader. However, when I did assert stronger leadership, I found that Isaiah and Micah became calmer and less aggressive. I also learned to acknowledge Isaiah as the ‘big’ dog and acknowledge his authority over the younger Micah. Things are going much better now.

IMG_2437Since I read the first few chapters of The Dog Listener, I have been pondering dog and human evolution. Even though I am convinced that human beings have evolved to the degree that many of us crave partnership and egalitarian organizational forms, prehistoric humans were pack animals. The bond between early humans and their dogs is older than religion or civil society and it originated because humans became beneficial alpha leaders for dogs. Dogs were better off working for packs of people than just hunting on their own.

Do human beings still need hierarchical structures? Are we still very much like our dogs, do we need to know our place in the ‘order’ of our tribe or pack? Do we need alpha leaders, and are we willing to submit to their authority in the way that wolves submit to their alpha leaders?

Please share your comments and answers to these questions. Tomorrow I will continue this inquiry.

MLK, Leadership, and Nonviolence (part two)

Would Rev. Dr. Martin Luther MLK, Jr. prefer that we celebrate his heroic leadership, or that we continue to work to end racism and all forms of economic and social injustice? Would he prefer a day named after him, or a day set aside for nonviolence and justice?

We should be uncomfortable with many of the celebrations held on MLK Day.  We should be uncomfortable with events that fail to acknowledge the complexity of the movements – civil rights, economic justice, and nonviolence (peace with justice).  We should acknowledge that MLK was a leading spokesperson for a huge movement.  We should recognize those too often nameless other leaders who risked their lives and worked for civil rights.

There are far too many myths about MLK that depict him as the sole heroic leader (The Great Man) of the movement. Many of the myths emphasize the individual at the expense of the leader-full movement. MLK was often a reluctant leader.  As one of the most visible voices of the movement, his life was nearly always at risk.  Others in the civil rights movement saw MLK as one among many “outstanding movement strategists, tacticians, ideologues, and institutional leaders” (

MLK was one of the strongest advocates for nonviolence within the movement.  Nonviolent social change takes discipline and training, and multiple layers of leadership.  Scholars have examined the black struggle as a locally based mass movement.  Sustained protest movements arose in many southern communities in which MLK had little or no direct involvement.  MLK might prefer that this day be National Civil Rights Day, or National Nonviolence Day.

Since the first MLK Day in 1986, our understanding of leadership and the civil rights movement has evolved.  The success of the black movement came from the mobilization of hundreds or even thousands of community leaders (both black and white).  Scholars also recognize the extent to which the movement was transformed through the masses, a bottom up transformation not just the influence of a solitary heroic leader.

It leaves me pondering a few questions.

How would the complex nonviolent movement for civil rights have progressed if historians had not placed so much emphasis on MLK as THE heroic leader?  Perhaps, a greater acknowledgement of the leader-full nature of the movement may have helped to maintain the movement’s momentum.

Is it easier to suppress a movement if we strike down the solitary heroic leader?  I suspect that is the case.  I also wonder if there are lessons to be learned by examining how the civil rights movement fared after MLK’s assassination, or even after a holiday was named in his honor.

And one last question:  What did MLK want to be remembered for?

Here is a link to an excellent article about MLK that helps to answer that question.



When he suggested his own epitaph, he asked not to be remembered for his exceptional achievements–his Nobel Prize and other awards, his academic accomplishments; instead, he wanted to be remembered for giving his life to serve others, for trying to be right on the war question, for trying to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, for trying to love and serve humanity. “I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.” Those aspects of MLK’s life did not require charisma or other superhuman abilities.

If MLK were alive today, he would doubtless encourage those who celebrate his life to recognize their responsibility to struggle as he did for a more just and peaceful world. He would prefer that the black movement be remembered not only as the scene of his own achievements, but also as a setting that brought out extraordinary qualities in many people. If he were to return, his oratory would be unsettling and intellectually challenging rather than remembered diction and cadences. He would probably be the unpopular social critic he was on the eve of the Poor People’s Campaign rather than the object of national homage he became after his death. His basic message would be the same as it was when he was alive, for he did not bend with the changing political winds. He would talk of ending poverty and war and of building a just social order that would avoid the pitfalls of competitive capitalism and repressive communism. He would give scant comfort to those who condition their activism upon the appearance of another MLK, for he recognized the extent to which he was a product of the movement that called him to leadership.


MLK, Leadership, and Nonviolence (part one)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  (MLK)

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) was one of the most extraordinary communicators of modern time. More than 40 years after his death, liberals and conservatives both repeat his quotes. MLK was not a solitary leader of the civil rights movement; he was the spokesperson for the movement. His words would have been hollow had he not also been willing to embody the practices of nonviolent civil disobedience. He was willing to suffer imprisonment and even death for the cause – but he was not willing to use violence.

In March 2007, after studying MLK’s writings on nonviolence (in conjunction with a two year relationship with Pace e Bene Nonviolence Services (, I was a participant in the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. Over 3,000 people gathered in the National Cathedral to engage in a multi-faith, multi-denominational worship service for peace and an end to the Iraq war. After a powerful service with a number of nationally recognized “preachers” we walked 3.5 miles (in the middle of a blustery cold winter snow storm) singing peace songs, drumming, and holding battery powered candles.

Like the nonviolent demonstrations of MLK, this event was carefully planned beginning months in advance. The vast majority of the participants and all of the leaders had received preliminary training in the practices and principles of nonviolence. Training included role-playing violent confrontations and spiritual practices designed to help prepare us to face violence without responding with violence.

While we walked from the National Cathedral to the White House, there were trained ‘peace-keepers’ walking along both sides of the larger group. They were leaders with considerable training who were able to defend the ‘nonviolent’ nature of the mass of people. Rabble-rousers were not allowed into the marching group. People who shouted angry words, or who were not able to maintain their composure were asked to leave. It takes a great deal of discipline to maintain the spirit of nonviolence. Nonviolent movements need to be leader-full movements.

About three hundred of us walked around the White House one time singing peace songs and praying. A prayer vigil with thousands was held the park directly across the street. Then the civil disobedience commenced. The first group of 100 people formed a circle right in front of the White House. As long as we were peacefully moving we were within the law, but as soon as we stopped on the sidewalk we were breaking a law. After several verbal warnings and at least an hour of time waiting in the freezing cold, the National Park Police handcuffed the first 100 people and hauled them into buses to be driven to the Park police station.

I was part of the second round of people arrested. After the first arrests, the police put up a yellow crime scene warning tape across the sidewalk and told us we were not allowed to cross the line. I was one of the first to cross the police line holding the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq banner. We didn’t have to wait as long to be arrested. However we did form a similar circle holding hands and singing. The woman standing next to me and holding my hand was over 80 years old.

There were so many (over 300) people arrested that night that they were not able to put us all in jail cells. We spent the night in our buses, waiting for our turn to be taken into the police stations to be finger printed, booked, and given our citations.

This occurred during the Lenten season. When I returned to Berkeley, I returned to my role as an organizer of the annual Good Friday nonviolent civil disobedience worship service (using the Christian/Catholic stations of the cross as our context). I was arrested that Good Friday (again for quietly praying) at the gate to the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear laboratory.

MLK also went to jail in Birmingham on Good Friday.

One of the lessons I have learned in my journey as a nonviolent practitioner is the pain of the “appalling silence of good people (See MLK quote at the end of this post).” The notion that we should be well behaved, and not upset those who tell us to “be patient” is one way that “good people” betray the cause of justice for the oppressed.

When I returned to seminary after my arrests, my fellow “progressive liberal” seminary students had mixed reactions and many of them could not understand my willingness to risk my future as a clergy person for something like this. “Aren’t you afraid what your Board of Ordained Ministry will say?”

Recently, I have been attempting to reconcile an old connection with a United Methodist Church. There are so many kind and compassionate people that I love who belong. However, there are leaders in the congregation who would silence my prophetic advocacy for LGBTQ folk with admonitions to be patient, and to respect the conservative point of view. For a congregation that wants to be known as the church where “all means all”… do they really only mean you are welcome if you accept their status quo?

It happens to leaders all of the time, particularly transformative leaders. You cannot be a transformative leader and protect the status quo. You cannot be a transformative leader if you are overly concerned that you might offend good patient people.

This is the lesson that we should learn from MLK’s letter from the Birmingham Jail. (Excerpts from letter)


“For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Quotes from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

A New Metaphor for Leadership

I wrote this poem to illustrate a metaphor for an eco-egalitarian style of co-leadership.  Since my ideas about leadership have been heavily influenced by my experience as a Christian, it is also a metaphor for spiritual leadership and a spiritual community.


Our Garden
by Robyn Morrison

We kneel, rubbing the moist dark soil in
our weathered hands.  Earth is our source.

Enriched by life composted from seasons past.
The days are warmer.
The time for sowing seeds has come.

We turn the soil (once, twice)
noticing earth worms, uncovering potential,
bringing life giving air to what was beneath.

Rows, patches, mounds, pots —
Wondering what each plant needs;
where each will thrive.

Then — down into the soil seeds are sown.

Patience now. God is our partner.

Only God knows how to release the potential in each seed.

The Garden gathers what she needs;
crawling creatures, winged things,
winds gentle and strong, life giving water,
sunlight, people.

There are structures in our Garden that endure;
apple trees, currant bushes.
Others stay for many years;
rhubarb, asparagus.
The colorful ones come and go, here for a season, then
thrown into the compost bin.

The Garden sustains life.  She feeds us.
In return we, the Garden and her gardeners,
cultivate and tend all who gather in her midst.

Year after year;
kneeling, sowing, tending, harvesting, composting.

From soil to soil.  Life goes on.