The future is not about logic and reason.
It’s about imagination, hope, and belief.
– Dee Hock
As leaders it is our role to become bridges – to create a new
thoroughfare for thinking that supersedes the binary
and finds its strength in the whole.
– Jan Phillips
In the United States, we are very proud of our “pioneers,” those who left familiar territory and set out to explore new lands, and blaze new trails. Leonard Doohan, an emeritus professor at Gonzaga University, suggests in his latest book, Courageous Hope, that leaders today must be pioneers still.
However, the call today is not to geographic frontiers. Instead, the call today is to frontiers at the margins of meaning and justice. As a result, we need a different brand of pioneer. To people ravaged by neglect, abuse, and environmental devastation; to people denied their basic right to water, food, shelter and clothing; to people labeled as unqualified to love and be loved; to people searching for meaning in a rapidly changing world; to these people we are called, says Leonard Doohan, to be Pioneers of Hope (pp. 1-33).
In the Christian Scriptures, in the Gospel of Mark, we find the story of Jesus’ call to the apostles, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” When I recently sat with that line, and focused on the image of fishing, I thought to myself: “What is the lure?” If you have ever fished, you know you have to have something on the hook that will be attractive to the hungry fish in order to catch anything. I realized in that moment of reflection that Doohan is right – the lure Jesus offered, and the lure we must offer today, is “Hope.” Jesus offered Hope to people crushed by the Roman Empire, and by the brutalities imposed even by their own people. We must offer Hope today to people and a planet crushed by those spreading injustice, violence, and environmental destruction across our globe.
Now, at this point, you may be asking: If our call today is to be Pioneers of Hope, what does the hope we wish to offer look like? I am coming to believe it involves being Bridge-Builders. I got this idea in part by recently reading Huston Smith’s book, Why Religion Matters. Smith says something about this need for Bridge-Builders. He suggests that today we are in the midst of a profound social debate he identifies as secular vs. religious, science vs. spirituality. He writes:
The crisis that the world finds itself in …is located in something deeper than particular ways of organizing political systems and economies…East and West are going through a single common crisis whose cause is the spiritual condition of the modern world (p.1).
Smith suggests that spirituality and religion matter as much as science and the secular because they address our experience of “the More” from which we all come. Says Smith, “Built into the human makeup is a longing for the ‘more’ that the world of everyday experience cannot requite….The reality that excites and fulfills the soul’s longing is God by whatsoever name” (p. 3).
An Ancient Prophecy
To further illustrate Smith’s points, I am going to share an ancient vision that comes from parts of Latin America. You may have heard of it. It is the prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor. I will summarize the prophecy by adapting a description of it from the website of the PachaMama Alliance (http://www.pachamama.org/blog/the-eagle-and-the-condor-prophecy) :
The prophecy speaks of human societies splitting into two paths – that of the Eagle, and that of the Condor. The path of the Condor is the path of heart, of intuition, and of the feminine. The path of the Eagle is the path of the mind, of the industrial, and of the masculine.
The prophecy says that the 1490s would begin a 500-year period during which the Eagle people would become so powerful that they would virtually drive the Condor people out of existence.
However, the prophecy offers a hope. It says that during the next 500-year period, beginning in 1990, the potential would arise for the Eagle and the Condor to come together, to fly in the same sky, and to create a new level of consciousness for humanity.
The prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor begins by pointing to differences between what we might call indigenous and Western cultures. The prophecy speaks of the Eagle and the Condor flying high together and connects that image to the potential for a new level of human consciousness, as if we, too, could fly at the great heights of the Eagle and the Condor. What meaning is there in this for us? To me, this image of flying to new heights suggests that to become Bridge-Builders, we must begin within ourselves, in the development of a conscious awareness that can rise above the fragmentation of difference and see “the More,” the fundamental unity of all things. The prophecy suggests we all have the potential for this. This is why Huston Smith says the crisis of our time is a spiritual one. In our heady rush toward material progress, we have forgotten about the spiritual need to grow inwardly to reach our full potential as human beings.
Here is another observation on this, coming from my own cultural roots. My mother’s parents came to the U.S. from Ireland. Some years ago, wanting to know more about the land of my ancestors, I read Thomas Cahill’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization. Recently, I went back to the book. Cahill’s conclusion struck me deeply. Though Cahill’s focus in the book is on how the Irish preserved the learning, scholarship, and culture of Western civilization through the “dark ages” following the fall of Rome, he ends his book with a commentary from which we can draw meaning for today. For the ones who left their island home carrying their books with them were not just Irish, they were, Cahill suggests, “the saints” – people who were spiritually mature; Celtic contemplatives steeped in an awareness of Huston Smith’s “the More”; God’s pioneers and risk takers.
In a concluding comment that echoes the prophetic ministry of Jesus and the prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, Cahill writes:
Perhaps history is always divided into Romans and Catholics – or, better, catholics. The Romans are the rich and powerful who run things their way and must always accrue more because they instinctively believe that there will never be enough to go around; the catholics, as their name implies, are universalists who instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family, that every human being is an equal child of God, and that God will provide. The twenty-first century, prophesied Malraux, will be spiritual or it will not be. If our civilization is to be saved…if we are to be saved, it will not be by Romans but by saints (pp. 216-218).
In other words, it is not science or secular society that will do us in, as some would suggest. As Cahill and the prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor suggest, what will do us in is an egotistical arrogance that separates itself from the fundamental unity of all things in “the More.”
Today I am coming to believe that the God of “the More” is calling each of us to new frontiers of Bridge-Building; to be people who work whenever and wherever (and no matter how old or young) to overcome the divide
- between the cultures of the Eagle and the Condor,
- between secular and religious,
- between science and spirituality,
- between ego and “The More.”
What, practically speaking, might that bridge-building look like? In answer, I would say it looks like all the “saints” of history Cahill speaks about, all persons everywhere who work to grow inwardly to develop the human qualities necessary to be in the world as Bridge-Building Pioneers of Hope in desperate times.
Cahill, T. 1995. How the Irish Saved Civilization. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Doohan, L., 2011. Courageous Hope: The Call of Leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Smith, H. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. New York, NY: HarperCollins.