Grandfather, look at our brokenness.
We know that in all creation
Only the human family
Has strayed from the Sacred Way.
We know that we are the ones who are divided
And we are the ones who must come back together
To walk the Sacred Way.
Grandfather, Sacred One,
Teach us love, compassion and honor
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other
-an Anishinabe prayer
For many of the years that I’ve been a progressive activist and organizer I’ve believed that there is little to no chance for the transformative, systemic change needed unless the Left gets serious about not just being a political alternative but also a cultural alternative. We can’t be critical of individualistic, hierarchical capitalism while treating other people in our daily life in a disrespectful or manipulative way.
Even more, we must not support the building of organizations that are led by individuals, usually men, who may be charismatic, articulate and/or brilliant but who are also egotistical, power-hungry or manipulative. We must build organizations that are all about group-centered leadership and conscious work to bring along and develop the leadership skills of all in the group, over time.
So when Rabbi Michael Lerner asked me to review his book, “Revolutionary Love: A Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World,” and I looked into what it was about, I agreed to do so. One reason was because I knew that Lerner is on generally the same political wavelength of me and millions of others in the US who see the need for what Bernie Sanders called a “political revolution,” but which involves much more than just systemic political change but systemic economic and cultural change as well.
Lerner describes “revolutionary love” in this way at one point in the book: “the love of life and all beings, embracing this world with all its complexities, heartaches, and joys. It is an approach that is respectful and caring toward everyone on the planet, even those whose behavior we hope will change, and toward the Earth in all its magnificent diversity as well. It is recognizing oneself and all others as part of the fundamental unity of all being—and caring for the welfare of every part of that unity. It is transcending one’s own narrow self-interest to experience others as manifestations of the sacred, and recognizing that a world where all are treated with respect and nurturance, both material and emotional, is in fact in one’s own self-interest as well. It is finding meaning in one’s life through relieving the pain and suffering of others, and joining with them in joyous and mutually nourishing relationships.” (p. 39)
Practically, Lerner’s primary strategic approach is to prioritize what I would call radical therapy, developing an organization and a movement of people who are trained in ways to help the many of us who are emotionally and psychically wounded by the dominant, racist, sexist, classist and homophobic culture and its twisted values. He says that “the first step for a liberatory movement is to create love-teams of people who are trained in prophetic empathy and who understand the need to spread a spirit of kindness and generosity, undermining self-blaming while also working together to develop the skills to popularize a new bottom line.” (p. 147)
As a person whose primary work for the last 17 years has been on the climate crisis, I was glad to see that this was one of many issues that Lerner wrote about and that he saw it as a critical one. I do have to say, though, that I did not see what I consider to be the needed level of urgency about that issue reflected in his strategy, and that is a weakness.
I liked when he wrote about the need for radical therapy because: “I’ve witnessed many progressive organizations and movements crippled by participants who are so deeply needy for recognition that they interrupt meetings with impossible demands, raise irrelevant ideological disputes, or put down others or the organization that they joined, in the process making others question their desire to be in that movement. Many people have told me they stopped being activists because they had hoped to find in the Left people who embodied high ideals but instead only found people who were deeply wounded. My response has always been that if you want to change this society and save the life support system of Earth from the destructive impact of what I call the globalization of selfishness, you have to work with wounded people, because there is nothing else on this planet.” (p. 94)
I am glad that Rabbi Lerner and his Network of Spiritual Progressives are doing this work. It is work that I have tried to do all throughout the years that I have been in the progressive movement. It is strategic work. All of us wounded people joining together to heal the earth and heal each other is the only way we will ever bring about the kind of human society which we need very badly, and very soon.
Ted Glick is the author of the forthcoming Burglar for Peace: Lessons Learned in the Catholic Left’s Resistance to the Vietnam War. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.