Entries from February 2008 ↓

Protecting religion from Government: Why we need church-state separation

I just got one of those emails from a family member.

You know the kind, the ones with knee-jerk arguments for hyper-conservative policies. The kind that can ruin your evening.

This one was calling for “prayer in schools” and told people who didn’t believe in God to “sit down and be quiet.”

Here’s my response…


“As long as there are tests, there will always be prayer in schools.”

Our nation was founded by religious minorities. Puritans, baptists, and others fled religious persecution in Europe to the United States so that they could be free of state-sponsored religions that persecuted them for their religious beliefs.

The establishment clause of the first amendment of the constitution is part of the genius of the American system. It protects religion from the state.

For example, Episcopalians use pre-written prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. Pentecostals rely on spontaneous, spirit-led prayer. If we teach prayer in schools, which type do we teach?

The job of government and schools is not to teach religion. Public schools should not force protestant children to say the “Hail Mary.” Nor is it to force Jews to end their prayer with “in Jesus’ name we pray.” Nor is it to tell atheists, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, and others to “be quite and sit down.”

I try (and admittedly often fail) to maintain a daily prayer practice, one that is rooted in my Quaker spirituality and tradition. It is different from the Muslim practice of praying toward Mecca. It is different than the charismatic Pentecostal tradition of spontaneous prayer and speaking in tongues. It is different than the Episcopal reliance on the Book of Common prayer. I would hate to insist that the schools teach Pentecostal, Muslim, Episcopalian, or other kids that the right way to pray is how the Quakers pray. The only way to safeguard our religious liberty is to keep the responsibility for religious education in the hands of our religious institutions.

That’s why the establishment clause is right there in the first amendment. That’s why Thomas Jefferson talked about a “wall of separation between Church and State.” This method of protecting religion from governmental encroachment is a brilliant American innovation, one that we should honor, cherish, and preserve.


p.s. Yes, for the record I recognize that some colonial settlers fled religious persecution from one state-sponsored Church to attempt to set up a new state religion that then went on to persecute other religions. I am painfully aware of how the Puritan settlers had Quakers whipped for proclaiming Quaker theology. I don’t want us to make that mistake again.

In seeking peace, neither prayer nor action alone are sufficient

Seek peace and pursue it” Psalm 34:14

They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” Nehemiah 4:12

As a community organizer, I visit a lot of congregations that pray for peace. Every week in their prayers and petitions they remember the suffering of war and pray for peace.

As a peace activist, I see a lot of people who work for peace. They march. They rally. They write letters.

Both of these are good.

Neither is sufficient.

The example of Nehemiah shows us that we need to both pray and act. We need to pray to God and post guards.
Our churches and other religious institutions need to act more boldly for the cause of peace. Our secular peace movements need to be more open to the spiritual aspects of peacemaking.

Everybody says they are seeking peace. We can all do better to pursue it more vigorously.

Photo by xsparrowx

Balancing Top-Down and Bottom-Up: The Example of Editors

Kevin Kelly has a great take on balancing top-down and bottom-up structures, and he gives editors as an example.

Kelly is a big proponent of bottom-up systems: smart mobs, hive mind, web 2.0, things like that. But he sees an important role for editors to make that work.

He gives the surprising example of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not all bottom-up. There is a top-down system for creating the structure. There is a center to look to the future. There are a few people empowered to make editing and community decisions.

And this little bit of top-down is essential to Wikipedia’s success.

Kelly writes:

It’s taken a while but I think we’ve learned that while top-down is needed, not much of it is needed. Editorship and expertise are like vitamins. You don’t need much of them, just a trace even for a large body, and too much will be toxic, or just pissed away. But the proper dosage of intelligent control will vitalize the dumb hive mind.

I appreciate his pragmatism here, which I find much more trustworthy that the ideological purity of decentralization I found in We Are Everywhere.

Now the tough work begins: how to find that balance in different settings.

(Thanks to the Nonprofit Online News for tipping us off on this)

How to learn good speech cadence: read along with famous speeches

Lately I’ve started listening to famous speeches on my MP3 player as I work out.

While I’m running, I’ll listen to A Time to Break the Silence or Eisenhower’s farewell address. And if I’m not running too hard, I’ll even try to talk along with the speech.

It’s amazing how slow many of them are.

Of course, one of the most common mistake people make in public speaking is to talk too fast. We get nervous. We confuse speed with enthusiasm. Or maybe we just want to get it over with.

What’s the result? Our audience never has time to let our words sink in, and our mile-a-minute talk fest leaves them slightly dazed.

Listening to, and especially speaking along with, famous speeches has helped me become a better speaker. It has taught me just how much I can slow down in my delivery. It has helped me learn how to vary my cadence, my volume, and my tone for dramatic affect.

Try it. You not only get to hear some of the most powerful words of our day, you also get to become a better communicator yourself.

(Bonus hint: If you’re looking for speeches to listen to, check out American Rhetoric and their Top 100 Speeches.) 

The Leader: Primal Branding Asset 7

Martin Luther King at 1967 march on WashingtonPatrick Hanlon caps his seven assets in Primal Branding with “the leader.”

I expected that he would proclaim the need for a single, charismatic leader: a Bill Gates, a Steve Jobs, a Jack Welsch.

He lists those, but he also lists more subdued leaders, leaders who base their leadership on their ability to listen, to have vision, to manage multiple skills.

Tomes have been written on leadership, and Hanlon doesn’t dig too deep. He does even give an example of non-traditional leadership such as at the advertising group Mother that has eliminated the role of account executive.

And that’s an important note: just like a brand can have more than one sacred word or more than one icon, it can also have more than one leader.

Indeed, we want many leaders. Our job is to cultivate, train, and empower people to be leaders.

And when we nurture leaders, we give followers and not-yet-leaders something they can connect to, which is what Primal Branding is about.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post, photo: National Archives)

Sacred Words: Primal Branding Asset 6

Do you know what it means to carmelize, deglaze, and saute?

Do you know what it means to keep a stack, stand aside, or block?

Do you know what it means to hit the wall or do a fartlek?

Which is larger at Starbucks, a tall or grande? (I don’t know this one.)

In Primal Branding, Patrick Hanlon talks identifies sacred words as one of the key assets that a company, product, organization, or movement needs to have adherents that believe in it.

As with many of his concepts, Hanlon doesn’t really explain it. After all, it’s primal, not rational. But observation does bear it out. Anything that people dedicate a lot of time or attention to develops its own language.

And once it has that language, those sacred words help to distinguish the insiders from the outsiders.

Hanlon hasn’t convinced me that you need to go out and try to create sacred words. In fact, he describes how they develop naturally in community. Nobody planned for people who attend the TED conference to start calling themselves TEDsters.

If you’re an organizer, though, who is committed to building an accessible community, you need to find ways to welcome people in so that they learn the sacred words.

At ICPJ, for example, we need to make sure people know what we’re talking about when we say REJ, LATF, or DWG.

Sacred words maintain an in-group, and that’s okay, so long as there’s no lock on the door that makes it impossible for new folks to get in.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post, photo by _fabrizio_)

The pagans: Primal Branding Asset 5

Primal Branding is about building a loyal following of believers in your cause, your product, your movement, your brand.

And to have believers, you have to have unbelievers.

At least, that’s what Patrick Hanlon asserts.

If your a coffee-head and Roos Roast fan, the unbelievers are those poor, misguided Folgers drinkers.

When I was in high school in Crando, there was a constant back and forth between the Ford people and the Chevy people.

One of my dad’s pet theories is that we will only have peace on earth after there is contact aliens.

For there to be a “we,” there needs to be a “they.”

Even Barak Obama, with his calls for unity and a new type of politics, creates a “they” by criticizing the old way of politics (and by extension those who practice it).

Many brands, movements, and religions have used us/them differences to create a strong following, and I think that’s okay.

There is a danger, however, in going on to create us/them divisions. I believe that King’s method of saying we disagree with the segregationists and resist them, but we do not hate them, is a much better method than Malcolm X’s lesson that the enemy is the white man.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post)

The Rituals: Primal Branding Asset 4

Chinese New Year ritualPatrick Hanlon takes a broad view of ritual. He sees any repeated process, whether it’s settling an insurance claim, getting married, or using an ATM as a ritual.

So what does this have to do with Primal Branding and making an emotional connection with your audience?

If you take a thought approach to these many repeated interactions, you have the ability to create a powerful, positive, and remarkable experience for your audience.

Here are some examples:

  • Aveda salons have made their “welcome the customer” ritual include giving them herbal tea and a scalp massage,
  • Progressive Insurance has made their “accident claim response” ritual involve sending an agent to the accident scene to write a check on the spot,
  • Lego made their “welcome toy professionals” ritual that reminded the adults what life is like for kids from birth through adolescence.

I can fully see how these rituals would make the customers build stronger connections to the companies.

What does this mean for a community organizer?

Think about some of the rituals you have with your members, volunteers, and activists:

  • What are your rituals for thanking volunteers? For thanking donors?
  • What are your rituals for welcoming new members?
  • What are your rituals for starting meetings? For ending meetings?
  • What are your rituals for starting presentations?

How can you make these experience special and pleasant for people?

Here are a few ways to implement this that come to mind for ICPJ:

  • Begin all our events with something for spiritual grounding. We often do this already. It can be tricky, since “interfaith” isn’t a religion, but offering something to ground our events in a sense that peacemaking is a spiritual act is a way to make a meaningful ritual.
  • Enthusiastically welcome new members. How can we create a process where new people immediately feel warmly welcomed, connected to the community, and invited to get more involved?

What are your rituals? How can you make them more positive for your audience?

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post, photo by ionushi)

The Icons: Primal Branding Asset 3

Primal Branding describes icons as “quick concentrations of meaning that cuase your brand identity and brand values to spontaneously resonate.”

They can be images, sounds, smells, textures, characters, tastes that resonate with your audience. Here are a few examples:

  • The OXO “fins”
  • The VW Beatle
  • The Apple startup tone
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Wedding Dresses
  • Oreos
  • Gandhi
  • The smell of an Aveda salon (yes, they are conscious of it)
  • yellow ribbons

An icon gives your audience something concrete to latch onto. Hanlon doesn’t explain how to create this, it may well be an intuitive process that is more felt than taught. He does share some lessons from some folks in the business of icons. I must admit, though, I’m left wondering what in the world ICPJ could use as an icon.

I’m open for ideas.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post)

The Creed: Primal Branding Asset 2

The second asset that Patrick Hanlon describes in creating a Primal Brand is a creed.

What is it you believe in? What are you about?

The focus of Primal Branding, after all, it to get people to believe in you. How can they believe in you if you don’t believe in anything yourself.

Hanlon lists some effective creeds:

  • All men are created equal [and women!]
  • Save the whales
  • It’s the real thing

A creed is the thought that lies behind a mission statement, though your creed may not be a long, formal, or stuffy as most mission statements are. It may tie in with your tagline or motto. Whatever it you call it, it’s how you and your audience know what you are about. It ties in with Guy Kawasaki’s call to “make mantra” in The Art of the Start.

At the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, I think there are two elements to our creed, and hashing them out is something we need to work on.

One part of our creed is that we believe that we make peace by bringing people from different faiths and backgrounds together around our shared concern for justice. We are stronger together, and ICPJ brings us together.

The other part of our creed is that we believe that peacemaking is a spiritual act, so we offer “social change with spirit.”

When I speak, I do speak about our origin story, which ties in to our creed of being stronger together. It does help people know where we came from and what we’re about.

What do you believe in? How do you communicate that to your audience?

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post)