For the past couple of days I’ve been in Washington, D.C. at the inaugural gathering of the CANA Initiative, representing Level Ground, among other things. We met the first night in the home of the Dean of the Cathedral, Gary Hall, just across the street. It was an informal, festive welcome to the three-day long gathering.

The next day—our only full day—we spent on the seventh floor of the beautiful Washington National Cathedral. The day started with a variety of individuals talking about why they are initiators of CANA, which, in addition to being a reference to the first miracle of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John, is also an acronym.


The goal, as I understanding it (and here is a ton of stuff written about this on the website) is to bring together leaders in faith-based organizations to network for collective action. In the room were representatives from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC, including the Bishop herself, Mariann Budde, leaders of various faith-based organizations including, Bread for the World, Odyssey Networks, Sojourners, Faith in Public Life, Faithful America, and The Beatitudes Society; Center for American Progress, historians (Diana Butler Bass); theologians (Philip Clayton), community organizers (Alexia Salvatierra) and ordinary clergy, activists and organizers like me.

The balance of our time together was spent in group exercises in which we learned what each of us was already doing and then dreaming (or, idea jamming) about what we might accomplish together.


I arrived skeptical, but my skepticism soon disipated when I realized that this was going to be about learning from one another about how to act together for important common causes. One question I had going into this week was, is this Emergent Village 2.0, or re-Emergent? I think I can now safely say, no. The conversation has broadened. This is no longer a conversation just about post-Evangelical/post-liberal theology or western philosophy. It appears that we are moving toward genuine praxis. And, we are more aware of our shortcomings. One particular moment brought me to these conclusion.

Brian McLaren took the microphone for a few minutes and said what many of us were thinking and feeling: once again, we were mostly a gathering of white people. There were definitely more women than I’ve seen at some of these things, but not nearly the broad ethnic and racial representation that I have experienced at PICO National Network gatherings, for example.

Brian said two things that I remember clearly. First, he urged the white people in the room to admit that they still don’t get it. He cautioned us that this is easy to assent to and much harder to live by. No matter how much we’ve read, how many experiences we’ve had, and how enlightened we are on the subject of race, no white person understands what the challenges really are for people of color in America.

Secondly, he plead with the approximately five blacks and two or three Latino leaders in the room to be courageous, speak up, and tell us the truth. He acknowledged what I always feel in moments like this: oppressed people have to not only deal with oppression but they are also tasked with teaching the rest of us how we’re the oppressor. Then they have to listen to us explain how we totally get it and that we’re the exception. This is unfair but still important work. Until white folks confess what they don’t know and can never fully know we will continue to create the same dominantly white, male networks which they wring their hands that we don’t have more people of color in the room.

The conclusion is simple: we still don’t have who we need around the circle. We cannot accomplished the things we want to accomplish with just the people who are in the room. It’s not going to happen. ”We still have a long way to go,” Brian wistfully confessed.

At that point he asked the people of color in the room if they would correct him where necessary and add to what needed to be added. Lisa Sharon Harper (Sojourners) took the mic and made a very significant observation: the anxiety around the whiteness of the Emergent conversation is unnecessary. The emerging church conversation is largely a white conversation, addressing the problems of modernist white churches vis-à-vis the fundamentalist-modernist split in the early 20th century. “This is just not the history of the black church in America,” she said. “So if that’s the conversation, don’t feel bad that it’s mostly a white conversation. But, if the CANA Inititiave is what it says it is—creating a broad-based network of faith-based leaders, activists and change agents representing the whole church, we absolutely don’t have who we need in the room.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. I hope.

Next steps will become clear shortly. As only Doug Pagitt could say, this week was an initial gathering to plan for the planning. Or something like that. It was an intentional effort, greatly appreciated by many, to not create a new network with 5-10 people in the room and then try to recruit everyone to be a part of it. It is much more tedious to have 100 people designing and building a network together but in the long run, it will have a broader base of appeal and power. I’m looking forward to where this new chapter in our conversation heads next.

The view of the National Mall from the 7th floor of the Washington National Cathedral.

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