Modern “Faith” Based Organizations: Creative Mornings

Maybe the modern “faith” based organization can go beyond traditional religious frameworks, I asked myself last Friday morning while I was walking to work after Creative Mornings. I want to unpack what it means to have “faith.”

Background:

Creative Mornings is now an international organization built on small localized groups who agree to host free events on Friday mornings before work in their communities. There is normally a theme, one keynote speaker, and sometimes a musician opener and a handful of 30 second pitches from the community. The audience signs up a few days before the event and joins together for breakfast and conversation before the hour-long live event.

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The audience here in New York is very creative: the usual attendees are researchers, artists, strategists, developers, and students. It is also one of the warmest audiences I’ve ever seen in New York, because it’s an audience that is excited and ready to get up early and explore challenging themes like Risk, Love, Freedom, Ethics, Sex, and Revolution.

What does it mean to have “faith?”

I am very much struggling with this question. If “Faith” is tied to specific organized religions, and I find myself outside of those communities right now, can I explore “faith” more broadly?

For now, I am working with this definition: maybe “faith” can be about hope, and designing for the people and world I hope we can become, that I know we have inside of us when we feel safe and loved. Maybe finding “faith” can be about spending time in communities that share my values and want to work towards a more inclusive, generous, and peaceful world. Let’s start with this as an option.

Creative Mornings introduced me to some new tools and questions about “faith.” 

In June, I went to a Creative Mornings event while in a daze after the Brexit was announced, and it helped me find some direction: instead of mourning what we were losing, I was going to celebrate and support the creators. Michaela Angela Davis asked really challenging questions about race and activism in the United States.

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She also taught us about what it means to think strategically and do the hard things when we need to act. This event set me on a new track to manage my media intake (specifically, on the election and the terror that Trump’s campaign embodies) and it taught me to think more strategically about how I want to participate.

Last week, we explored Love with someone who is very much still healing from her experience losing a child/loved one. Maggie Doyne is known for her work building the next generation of a home for children without families. She shared her very personal journey with grief and finding a way back to her work, and she reminded us, “love is the hardest thing, but it is the only thing that heals us.” To love is a choice, to keep your heart open is a choice.

I've been listen non-stop to Amy Vachal since she opened for the July Creative Mornings.
I’ve been listen non-stop to Amy Vachal since she opened for Maggie Doyne at the July Creative Mornings/NY.

That afternoon, I posted “On this day, and every day, Love will win. The darkness cannot take my mind (so I’ll keep learning). It cannot take my joy (so I’ll keep playing). It cannot take my heart, so I’ll keep loving). Love will win. Today and every day.” I received so many letters of love from my friends and mentors. I could create and be part of the community that I thought I was looking for, but really had created around me. I needed this reminder, though I hope one day I will stop questioning it.

I’ll keep coming to Creative Mornings, because it offers a new question to grow into each month. 

This experience, like so many others, depends on what you put into it and how open to the experience you’re willing to be. I appreciate that it helps me explore “faith” and my values each month, and it provides beautiful moments to remind us we’re less alone than we think we are.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve noticed a real desire within my friends/neighbors for a community that discusses ethics and shares values like promoting equal opportunity and values local volunteer work. It started, more loosely, last summer while I was exploring creative communities. In these posts, I am exploring what people are creating in these communities and trying to figure out where I can fit in, support, and keep learning. 

What does a modern faith based organization look like? The quest begins.

What does a modern faith based organization look like? What will the next generations of faith based organizations look like? (and where do we see them evolving… informally)

I am doing some research on informal organizations that pop up to serve a very real need for community/faith based organizations for people who have trouble finding a place for themselves in more traditional faith based spaces. (PEW reported in 2015 that “millennial” (those born between 1981-1996) were most likely to report their religious affiliation as “none.”) It has led to a series of very interesting and complicated case studies… more on that later.

Where do you go when you are mourning but not part of a church or temple? Are there still spaces where kindness and service to others is part of the common understanding that isn’t tied to religious tradition? Does it need to be? Where do you go if you want to have debates about ethics with a proposed ethical framework that isn’t immediately torn down so you can explore? What if you are struggling with your past decisions and want to heal, and have been rejected from a particular community for not fitting their mold? I’ve seen a lot of these cases unfold in personal essays and honest conversations with friends.

In the first part of this investigation, I want to share some of the honest conversations I’ve had and seen about faith in the last year. I am interested in what the next generations of faith based organizations look like. Especially as Pope Francis does some very cool things within the Catholic Church that make me wonder if I will find my way back into some of the churches I went to when I was a child.

Dalia’s talk opened my mind to a more honest conversation about faith. Where I needed to admit, I am often unable to answer questions about my “faith.”

I wrote this comment on Dalia's talk when it went up this winter.
I wrote this comment on Dalia’s talk when it went up this winter. It was the most up-voted comment on the page, which also tells me that I am not alone in my experience/struggle with faith.

Chelsea’s talk pushed me to look at my own biases and reasons for being afraid of aspects of organized religion. She encouraged me to look at what real activism looks like… and what it means to be part of a community.

I am just starting to investigate, but it’s been really interesting to see what groups have been organizing informally, often around similar language about ethics and community to the lessons I learned in church as a child. Sometimes there is a clear separation from the symbols and traditions of the church… but sometimes the separation is less clear. I am also interested in those who join or return to more traditional organizations in their 20s. This is the beginning of my research in this space.

Balancing Human and Activist

I have many thoughts about what is happening at Yale this week and how alumni can be supportive of students and the community… but I want to start with this Talk.

Roxane Gay’s message applies to all sorts of activism. Without space to be human, make mistakes, edit, fumble, and grow… how do we participate?

I also remember struggling with this so much when I was a student & activist in college. The balance… sometimes so difficult. Especially when it came to arguing for a cause and building out a community.

Why I write [[1]]

I write to make sense of the world when I feel so overwhelmed by the combination of information, analysis, and pure human emotion. It is the only way I can stop myself from feeling too overwhelmed to pick something to help out with where I can offer something. I write to make sense of my world, I build to do something worth remembering later.

All of this news from Baltimore makes me think about how parents talk to their children about right and wrong. How do we teach them about justice? I know it happened, but I cannot remember how my parents first introduced the concept of “just” and “unjust,” or even “fairness.”

How does one define or provide examples of justice today, while the news is scrolling through coverage from Baltimore and Ferguson and so many other communities in the United States that are sharing the stories that have been hidden for too long?

I mostly read twitter, and a handful of the articles, but there is a lot of editorializing and not enough data for me to follow and make sense of everything from here, at a distance.

All of it is, however, causing me to return to questions I’ve been returning to for the last few years.

I struggle with my understanding of “activism” and viewing myself as an “activist” in similar ways/language that my Catholic or formerly Catholic friends talk about their faith.

The difference, and what I envy them for, is that they can retreat to a church as a space of quiet reflection.

My temple is in loud gritty streets where I cannot ever turn off. Where a car horn at 4am is as natural to me as the sound of my roommate locking the door behind her when she leaves early in the morning. Never alone, never completely able to let go.

The only way I escape from losing my mind in over-defining and critiquing myself to death is to write about it. Either in the journals I keep or in poetry. The poetry is ideal because I can hide behind words and express more purely what the strain/breach of faith feels like. [Breach in both definitions: the breaking and rebuilding].

Maybe it will always be in conflict.