On Tuesday afternoon I participated at Communities Foundation of Texas in a "Dialogue on Civic Philanthropy" devoted to legacies and bequests. The conveners were Amy Kass, William Schambra, and Krista Shaffer; the participants were leading lights from the Dallas Foundation community. That evening, after dropping Amy, Bill, and Krista at DFW for their flight to Washington, I went on to San Francisco for a three day conference of progressive funders, on "Transforming Money," sponsored at the IONs Center by Rudolph Steiner Foundation.
It would be very easy to make gentle fun of either gathering. The conservative group in Dallas met in a room filled with ancient, intricately carved ivories, the spoils of some tycoon's travels, on permanent display. The key topic was "donor intent." The outrage, if any, the injustice most deeply felt, was that some curmudgeons have set up foundations, like Pew, Ford, or Rockefeller, which have strayed over time from the xenophopia, eugenics, and right wing nuttery of their founders and become exponents of the public interest and servants of the public good.
Equally easy it would be to poke affectionate fun at the progessives. As we said, Tracy Gary and I, on our way to San Francisco airport afterward, "The 60's never ended, but they have been driven back to their hidden bastions in the deer filled hills around San Francisco." One evening we had improv. Another evening we had chants for peace. After each person spoke in our general sessions our moderator suggested that we each take a deep cleansing breath; or sometimes we had to stand and wave our hands about to change the mood and make us more receptive to the energy in the room. We had in the middle of our big discussion circle, tribal in feeling, a multi-colored cloth that served us as a pagan, Buddhist, or nondenominational altar. On it were stone eggs, eagle feathers, odd shaped delicate pottery bowls, a ritual brass "singing bowl," coins from all over the world, a basket of seeds, lotion to anoint the hands of those who sat like American Indians around the cloth, and a volume of poetry. Each of us had been asked to bring shoes for hiking, a flashlight, and a vial of water from our home, preferably not from the tap. Most people left their shoes by the door, as if in an ashram or Indian Temple. From time to time singers among us would break into impromptu songs, or hum, as they rocked back and forth, in support of what another person was saying. Others moved around the circle offering neck rubs. Our topics included alternative currency, socially responsible investing, ecology, money and meaning, and strategic outreach. In our closing ceremony our priestess, if that is what she was in her black skirt with its many flowing flaps, had each of us cleanse a piece of filthy lucre, picking a coin from the cloth, and dipping it in the mingled waters in a pottery bowl with glazes made from countries all over the world. Then we chose a seed and offered our commitment to the circle, to ourselves, to Mother Earth, or whatever was present in that room of the spiritual. Among the expostulations was, "Long live France and Long live the Revolution!" However, any revolution would have to be in the imagination, because this was a crowd too pacific to even sacrifice a proper goat, or slit the throat of a cock. The altar cloth contained not even a pocketknife. Many of those attending were vegans. A woman there, a wonderfully alert young woman and mother, who had come representing a Christian outreach program, and I caught each other's eye. I wondered if such rank idolatry was possible for her. But she knelt graciously, made the sign of the cross in the mingled waters, and offered her poetic words. Afterward we spoke of how hard we had made it for her and others in her community of faith, how tightly our circled closed despite our dogmatic emphasis on diversity.
Not donor intent was our theme but the fate of the planet and the soul under capitalism run amok. Race, class and gender were among the organizing themes, though many were restive under that procrustean regime. We in the male professional white caucus rebelled and asked that we consider vision, strategies, and results. We agreed with the Rapture Ready (who were conspicuously absent) that the planet was dying and unlike the Rapture Ready we hoped to do something to prolong the life of the biosphere, since we liberals would have to be the ones to help clean up the mess when the perps went to heaven to rejoice with God at our suffering. My prayer in closing was, "May we sow our seed among those who disagree with us that we might create a wild and fertile hybrid." In that moment I was thinking of Amy Kass, Bill Schambra, and Krista Shaffer and hoping that we can from our respective center points, create circles that overlap, blend, and form a new and larger circle, with new, or renewed, rituals of belonging within an open space and an open society. I really do think that is possible and in the process of becoming. In such circles, ideologically closed or open and diverse, donor intent is formed, for better or worse. May God have mercy on our miserable souls and our intentions whether we be rich or poor, progressive or conservative. If we are to form good intentions, well made and well considered, we could use a little more constructive conversation among those who deeply disagree. We need to talk about donor's needs, and the needs of the community too. Then donative intent, however partial and flawed, can be formed in reflective equilibrium in the white hot moment when the soul becomes a crucible in conversation that goes deep.
From a personal standpoint, what jolted me is that in both groups I was known as a blogger. Bill Schambra, browsing among the ivories, let on with a sidelong glance and whispered words, that he has lurked among the gifthub crowd and the Dumpster Dwellers out behind Wealth Bondage, where he works, often until late in the evenings, helping The Booted One's philanthropic intentions become the law of the land. At the Ions Conference, there too people would say, "No! You are not the gifthub guy, are you?" Then they would look at me from across the circle with a crazy smile of recognition. "Are you out as a blogger?" Tracy Gary asked me. "Well," I said, "gifthub is in my bio, let's leave it at that."
Writing on the web is as intimate as a conversation with a few close friends, yet around that small circle, many others may move, listening, assessing, surveilling, planning, plotting, feeling alienated or disgruntled or downright disgusted. To those from Ions, or the Civic Philanthropy convening who come here - please leave a trace from time to time. Chortle, fume, refute, deride, cast me out. (For me the Dumpster is a good enough home, one befitting a street philosopher in the tradition of Diogenes.) Let us refine one another's intentions in open discussion. This is blogging, not publishing. Each post simply accosts whomever is present, coming and going in your travels in the public space. Your comments are welcome, whatever they might be, because comments become conversation and out of conversation grows community and maybe even a revitalized democracy, a consummation we all might well embrace.