What Sparks a Paradigm Shift and Where Can We Find Hope?

SOURCE: Thread started by Jeremiah Rice, and my response starting with this tweet. Although his thread began with a just-reported criminal case involving Mark MacArthur, I was also still thinking about the sexual misconduct investigation announced February 22nd regarding L’Arche International founder Jean Vanier. Both situations bring to the forefront questions about paradigm shifts, and finding hope and holding on when we face such traumatic news. Continue reading

Three Questions to Help Us Discern and Decide Our Trajectory of Transformation

Earlier this month, I was out of town for my Aunt Virginia’s memorial service. Auntie V once was asked to sum up her life. She was a natural/intuitive futurist, and said it was “the ability to understand things to come.” She exercised *The Art of the Long View* in politics & community service decades before Peter Schwartz wrote his book by that title.

At her memorial, I shared how visionaries inspire individuals & communities to look beyond apparent limitations to see new POSSIBILITIES. Futurists don’t give THE answers to problems, but use research and questions to facilitate processes where you choose PREFERRED path forward. In essence, communities ARE the answer to their questions, and they can benefit from input to hold up a mirror so they can see it for themselves.

Figuring out our personal or social pathways forward is not a passive process. So, I also shared how I see hope, imagination, and prayer intertwined. Together, they activate our vision & motivate our work toward a future that is different from what otherwise seems inevitable.

If there is one “human universal” that drives a desire for transformation, it’s to make a better world for next generations. We could use more “futuring” to discover & pursue our personal passions, plus develop common ground for the common good in bettering our communities.

Doesn’t every era need this kind of input, to draw out & amplify our trajectory of transformation? I find it fascinating: 3,000+ years ago, the tribe of Issachar had members whose life & legacy was to understand the times & discern what Israel should do. (1 Chronicles 12:32)

If you’re interested in some of the specific tools and techniques involved in strategic foresight (studies of the future), here’s a tutorial, “So What’s a Futurist?” In it, I overview the kind of futuring skills I learned in a one-to-one intensive training over 20 years ago.

When I shared a tribute to Auntie V, I boiled futuring down to three key questions.

1. Helping people see our connections with one another, our interdependence–and welcoming all people of good will to consider how to seek common ground for the common good. The question is, WHO NOW?

2. Using either/or analysis plus both/and synthesis skills to find relevant cultural trends that no one can control–but that will deeply affect or direct our pathway forward as communities–and challenging us to imagine together the constructive (and potential destructive) possibilities. The question here is, WHAT IF?

3. Equipping people to see their way to a paradigm/culture shift by identifying trends that will have significant effects on them, finding patterns of plausible changes, and presenting that in story form to confront them with emotional impact of choices. The question: WHERE NEXT?

I had some fascinating conversations about geeky futurist stuff with my Aunt Virginia — social change, next generations, the pursuit of hope. I’m grateful to have had her as a role model in my own work in social change and advocacy … and to have shared that tribute in her honor.

Here are some quotes I particularly like related to the drive we have to pursue the common good, make things better for next generations, and be activated by hope and pray as we engage our imagination about a more preferable pathway forward.

Helen Haste Quote, *The Sexual Metaphor*, 1994

Angela Merkel Quote, July 2018


Bilbo’s Acorn, and Finding Hope in the Midst of the Battle

~ With Birthday Greetings on September 22nd

to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins!

I find the scene about Bilbo Baggins and his acorn one of the most poignant in the third movie of The Hobbit series: The Battle of the Five Armies. It takes place in the ruins of Erebor, the dwarf palace in the Lonely Mountain. King Thorin Oakenshield – whose heart and mind have been overtaken by Gold Fever – sees that Bilbo has something in his hand. Is it the Arkenstone – the heirloom of his house?

Thorin: What is that – in your hand? Show me!

Bilbo: I picked it up in Beorn’s garden.

Thorin: You carried it all this way?

Bilbo: I’m going to plant it in my garden, in Bag End.

[Thorin smiles and chuckles, seeming as if the Dragon Sickness from gold has gone.]

Bilbo: One day, it’ll grow. [He huffs a smile.] And every time I look at it, I’ll remember … Remember everything that happened. The good, the bad … and how lucky I am that I made it home.

I’m a very visual and concrete thinker, so I often use physical objects as reminders of memorable moments and milestones, and the people who were part of them. They become a sort of liturgy of hope. Sometimes – not every time – I hold and look at them, I call to mind the events of the past, recount their impact for good and/or ill, and express gratitude to God for sustaining me through it all.

It’s a way to practice the sentiments of seeking God that we find in Lamentations 3, especially verses 19-25 (NIV, via Biblegateway), especially in the midst of the troubles and battles of life.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;

Back to Bilbo and his hopeful little acorn, there is an even more poignant follow-up scene that was shot, but not included in the theatrical cut of the film, or even in the Extended Edition. Thankfully, we do find it in the Appendices Part 11, Section 7 on “The Cloud Bursts.” This is a segment about battles in the city of Dale, and the acorn scenes and commentary from Peter Jackson and key actors in those scenes start at about 23:20 minutes in.

To set the stage, the fight in Dale against the forces of evil is not going well. A moment arrives when there is a lull in the battle, and Bard the Bowman, Gandalf the Grey, and Bilbo Baggins have a crucial conversation, capped with a surprising twist.

Bard: The causeway has fallen! The elves still hold an open gate!

Gandalf: Not for much longer.

Gandalf: Get some bowmen up into those towers!

Bard: There are no bowmen left …

[Gandalf looks anguished. The scene shifts to snippets of fighting where orcs are prevailing.]

Bard [on the verge of tears]: I let myself imagine this city restored. We would take what had been destroyed and rebuild it. We would wash away this sadness – and the streets would once again be filled with life … full of hope.

Bilbo [winded]: No, no – no, no, no, no! Come now, don’t despair!

Bard: What would you have us do?

Bilbo [sighing]: Huh. Do? Do …? Here. [He nods his head for them to follow as he walks, just staggering a bit, to a nearby patch of ground.] Here, I’ll show you. [He puts down his sword, Sting, and begins digging into the earth with his hands.]

Bard: Bilbo!

Bilbo: [He reaches into his jacket, pulls out the acorn, and holds it up to show them.] Yeah?

[Gandalf and Bard look something between confused and bewildered. Bilbo gently places the acorn into the hole in the ground. In the background the Shire theme by Howard Shore plays as he fixes the acorn there and then covers it over with dirt.]

Bard: What is that?

Bilbo: [Huffing, he picks up his sword, stands, and faces Bard. He whispers.] That’s a promise.

[Now speaking in full voice, but still winded from fighting.] Underneath all that blood and dirt, there is a chance of new life. It may sound hopeless. It may sound foolish. But, uhh, really, what else can you do? When faced with death [he points Sting at the fighting beyond them], what can anyone do? [He points Sting at the place where he planted the acorn.] You go on living! Hmm?

Part of what makes this scene – and especially the commentary – so emotional is that it is in the context of a tribute to Andrew Lesnie, the Director of Photography on both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Sadly, he died of a heart attack at age 59. They weave a clip of him into the commentary on the acorn scenes, and I find it a powerful memorial to their friend.

Why is this theme of the acorn and finding hope coming to mind for me today? Not just because September 22nd is Bilbo’s and Frodo’s birthday, but because of my many survivor/advocate friends who are battling against toxic systems with institutionalized abuse.

Perhaps today is a good day for planting acorns …

Meme from IMGFLIP.COM.

Two Reposts: Pursuing Questions That Lead to the Answer[er] & Finding a Culture’s Quest/ion

“Gold Guy With Question” (c) Scott Maxwell / Fotolia #16798720, Licensed to Brad Sargent.

Introduction (2017)

Questions are something I find central to pretty much everything I do in terms of professional work, personal ministry, and pastimes. Editing is about questioning a text to see if what it says makes sense — or, if not, how to work with the author to refine it so it does. Research writing involves questions that guide the search for details (Who did what?), timelines (When did that happen, and how did that shape the context of what happened?), personal profiles (Who are you, and what drives your life in the pathway that you’re on?), and practicalities (What went wrong, why, and how can we repair that?). As to hobbies, I especially enjoy movies because, it seems to me, each one typically wrestles with two or three Big-Idea-Earth-Shattering-Or-Life-Shaping Questions. So, if I can identify those questions, I have a resource to share with people who are looking for an answer, or who’ve been living out an answer that doesn’t really fit The Question That Drives Their Life.

Anyway, I recently became acquainted with someone who really, REALLY likes the topic of questions. So, I thought I’d edit and repost these for my new friend’s enjoyment. I wrote the first one for Advent almost a decade ago in 2008. That same year, I republished an article from 2004 about questions the catalyze subcultures — another topic I find very intriguing, especially since it ties right in with social change. (I first wrote about subculturization in 1997 and, if all goes well, I’ll be able to pick up that thread again sometime soon to revisit it from the angle of social movements and how social entrepreneurs can navigate them.)

  • Hope Awaits: Pursuing Questions That Lead to the Answer[er] (2008)
  • Finding a Culture’s Quest/ion and Shaping Their Transformative Trajectory (2004)

I hope friends old and new will find something of interest in these articles, in picking up new questions or polishing reflections from old ones. Continue reading

Tributes for Two Teachers ~ Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2015

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Over the years, I’ve come to see how similar many of the underlying dynamics and tactics are between domestic violence and abuse of power in religious contexts – the grooming, verbal assaults, emotional manipulations, implanting of lies, quenching of hope.

My awareness about survivors of domestic violence began earlier than my understanding of spiritual abuse. It started 40 years ago with what I learned from my sister, Romae [pronounced like row + MAY], who had friends who were survivors of domestic violence. She stepped into roles of support, advocacy, and activism, and taught me all along the way.

Then, 10 years later, I helped “Janet” – one of my own friends who was a survivor – edit the story of her experiences. I recently got in touch with Janet, to thank her for making a difference in my life by sharing her story with me.

Both my sister and Janet brought light into dark places to the people around them. Their role-modeling of advocacy and activism helped me learn how to come alongside those who were lurking in the shadows, or emerging from them, and offer them whatever support I could. In honor of Romae and Janet, I decided to share two short pieces I’d written. Part of the tribute to my sister is from the obituary I wrote for her memorial service. The piece about Janet I edited from a comment I posted earlier this year on David Hayward’s post about “Abuse and the Privileges of Power.” Continue reading

“His Eye is on the Sparrow” – A Bit About eBay and Me, and Thanksgiving for God’s Provisions

The Chirp-Chirp Bird Reminds of God's Faithful Provisions ...

The Chirp-Chirp Bird Reminds of God’s Faithful Provisions …

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV)

Continue reading

“The Gift Is You” by David Wolf Launches July 29th

Once in a while, I post about resources worth noting. Today, I wanted to let you know about The Gift is You – a friend’s book that officially launches on Tuesday, July 29. It’s the personal story of David Wolf, a “Type A” personality doctor who delivered over 10,000 babies during his career, did medical mission work in Haiti, and mentored many other doctors – but ended up partially paralyzed from a go-kart accident at age 53, on July 29, 2001. Instead of letting such difficult circumstances stop him, David chose to roll with and around his obstacles.

Over the years, I’ve become convinced that part of God’s design is our innate desire to make a difference. When we engage that flow from our soul, the impact of our actions is like running water: It spreads out, seeps in, helps seedlings of change grow elsewhere. But what happens when barriers appear – challenges and changes, sufferings and frustrations? That water can be stoppered and the resulting lake can stagnate, but the stream of desire to make a difference just doesn’t go away. How can it find routes around, under, and/or over the inevitable barriers that life brings our way? That’s part of what tempers our character and sparks our creativity. And how David learned to navigate with grace such drastic changes in his life is what I find the most inspirational about his story.

I had the opportunity to help shape an earlier version of his book, and trust you’ll find true what the book’s subtitle says, “Encouragement for people seeking hope during life’s tough times.” The official launch day for the book is Tuesday, July 29. Check out other reviews on Amazon, and please consider purchasing on the 29th to give his book a boost! Proceeds from sales go to non-profits with ministries in Haiti and Congo.



Holocaust Remembrance Day

This is a day of remembrance.

In 1984, I was able to journey to Dachau. I’d already read books about the concentration camp, and while I was there I watched their documentary film and saw the site.

In 1987, I went to Flossenbürg, where nearly 100,000 prisoners went through its gates and 3 out of 10 died there. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of them. The international chapel there had stained glass windows or artwork donated by the many countries and cultures who lost citizens there. It was a solemn moment, sensing the souls of many whom history overlooks.

I am reminded today of a book related to the Holocaust that I read in the 1990s. It is by Dr. Robert Jay Lifton. Continue reading

Suicide, One Last Snapshot of the Heart, and Hope Beyond …

It is a custom in many Western and Central European cultures that, when family and close friends part company, they take a few minutes and simply gaze in solemn silence into their loved one’s face. It is as if they are memorizing every line, capturing each nuance of color and shade. As they lock into one final look, wordless volumes speak between to the eternity of the soul that shines through eyes. It offers one last snapshot of the heart, before life circumstances cause them to part.

In the last few days, I’ve received word from three friends about the suicide of someone they love. In these cases, they did not have opportunity for that one final portrait, that one last intentional gaze …

Continue reading

Midnight, Advent, and Hope …

 Midnight, Advent, and Hope …

© 2008, 2012 Brad Sargent.

In light of the shootings in Connecticut this past week, I felt I needed to do something to help counteract some of the shadow. I sensed I should repost this article, which was originally published November 11, 2008, under the title of “midnight …” It explores a few of the practical antidotes to selfishness, ugliness, and evil: prayer, beauty, and kindness – all very appropriate themes for Advent. May this article be used to spark some kindling of hope in the midst of the darkness of midnight … Continue reading