Chicago Nexus


June 16, 1976


This is the story of Community Issues Forum ­ a development gimmick that turned operational. It is the story of how we tricked ourselves into intensifying the effectiveness of Global Community Forum, even to the point of being forced to document that effectiveness before the world. We learned yesterday from the independent evaluator assigned to monitor the CIF program, that we are, in fact, going to be able to show that people's minds are being changed, and helpfully, during the Community Issues Forum.

However inadvertently we got into CIF, it has resulted in our doing Town Meeting with a red hot focus, namely: law enforcement. And that's a great concern of a great number of people around the country today.

One of our more orthodox colleagues once expressed the fear that CIF might be a flirtation with liberalism. I believe his fears have proved unfounded, because the law enforcement focus burns right through the particular to the comprehensive. Recently, we had a very concerned CIF workshop leader who kept pushing during the preparation for some way to particularize the forum to ensure that it focused on law enforcement, and she came up with a gimmick relative to the use of language in the proposal statements. After the meeting was over, her complaint was that no matter how hard she tried to keep the focus on law enforcement, it kept ballooning out into more general community concerns, for example, that criminal activity cannot be separated from the breakdown of structures in the community. No matter how hard she tried to make it not that way, it just kept being that way, which is encouraging relative to the kind of specialized foci we can use in the future to do more town meetings.

What happens in CIF, and, for that matter, in Town Meeting, is that for the first time in most people's lives they experience creative and profound dialogue. It's hard to imagine. People who have endured 80 years of life have never once had the opportunity to attend a forum where there was a method to ensure that genuine dialogue would take place. What's happening in this particular form of Global Community Forum is that two groups who have been radically separated from each other ­ those who represent the police power in this country and the ordinary citizen ­ are learning to talk together again. In view of the kind of sophistication we have, I don't know that we consider that to be a very dramatic mass development, but I can guarantee you that the citizens and police who attend the CIFs consider it to be so. Inevitably in the closing plenary there are testimonies on both sides that old gulfs have been bridged, that after shunning each other for years we have learned how to talk together again in common language.

Because we are doing 24 of these geographically, I go so far as to say that across this nation an impossible possibility is actualizing itself, that is, that conversation is occurring between the police and the citizen. Before the CIF begins, they all say that it is impossible for any such thing to take place. Then when it does take place they are delighted. The evaluator I alluded to says that even on the basis of just the first two ­ those were the only ones he had been to, and they weren't the best we've held ­ the government has not seen anything this encouraging in the way of citizen participation in the last 20 years. Even if he is overstating the case, it is obvious that, we are into something in which it can be documented that people are participating and that their mindsets are being changed in helpful and positive directions. People are seeing something miraculous that has not been seen in the land for a long, long time.

In a CIF, old and young, black and white, liberals and conservatives, illiterates and the educated all find the workshops to be a mediating reality. The most important thing that has happened is that the crude scrawlings of the last fat lady are being written down and documented and preserved for posterity as artifacts in advance, I think, of the Third American Revolution.

This country has given the world two great revolutions. First of all, though it was not alone, this nation gave the world a new concept of self government, and the history of the planet has not been the same since. A little later, being dissatisfied with the way in which its people were being used like animals in order to get the common labor done, the nation decided to use its ingenuity to find a better way. And although again America was not about this alone, it was primarily out of her genius that a new technology was given to the world which one day will release all human beings from animal labor. And today, not because we are virtuous, not because God loves us more, but because of where we are in our history, we are on the brink of the Third American Revolution.

I think that the success of Town Meeting is related to the recent history of our country. I don't think these CIFs would be coming off the way they are if it hadn't been for Watergate. I don't think there could possibly be the atmosphere of open discussion, even with the method we have, if events had not forced us to look into things like the FBI and the CIA. If you were like I was, you thought that the inner workings of the government were arenas that would be completely closed to examination until after you were dead. Yet now this arena has become one that people feel they not only have the opportunity, but the perogative, to look at, and they do just that in the CIF.

Because of the bias of the CIF, we have the opportunity to give the world a revolution once again ­ a revolution in human settlement ­ a model of what the lifestyle of the 21st century needs to be. And you can sense how eager people are to be about this revolution in their responses to the film we show at a CIF, one­third of which is on Fifth City. The film is having tremendous impact. The independent evaluator said to me, "You know, maybe the main reason you're doing these things is just to get that film shown across the country." In one CIF, the emcee was a well­known disc jockey who was so convinced that this was just going to be another dull meeting that he didn't even show up for the opening. He finally arrived, though, and by the closing plenary he had become an enthusiastic colleague. He said, "Man, it was the film that got me!" That's been general across the country.

If you use the social process triangle for a screen, then you'd have to say that at a CIF, the citizens are the sustaining pole, the law enforcement professionals are the directional pole, and the steering committee ­ including the coordinator, the master of ceremonies and the workshop leaders ­ is the meaning­giving pole. I want to talk a bit about the dynamics of humanness that seem to be taking place.

The officials who attend are largely professionals in the fields of law enforcement and justice, and, of course, know themselves to be authority figures. They long ago experienced a split from the ordinary citizen, and according to most officers they are still maintaining that separation, deliberately. They tell themselves that they are unfairly criticized and under­appreciated, and they shun any unnecessary contact with the public. And you know what that means: it means that their primary contact with the public is in times of crisis and struggle, usually during an arrest. They come to the CIF on assignment; it's part of their work. I don't know any of them who would have attended voluntarily. And they show up, therefore, with a gun on their hip and a chip on their shoulder, so to speak. They want you to know that they didn't want to be there, that they know why they're there, because some folks have gotten together and decided that they want to take some more pot­shots at the police, and so they come prepared obediently to sit through it.

Then they get into the workshops, and are surprised and delighted to discover that the citizens they are talking with care about the community and care about the laws being enforced. Not that they know what to do, or how to work with the officials, but that they care. The policemen come to the CIF saying ­ and this is the way they put it ­ "People don't care." They have come to believe that just because people are paralyzed and afraid and don't have the foggiest notion what to do, that they don't care. Well, it's not very long into the workshop until it's undeniable that the citizen cares very deeply, and at the end of the day, the policemen all testify how shocked and delighted they were to find out that people really care about the problems and the task that they are professionally supposed to take care of.

Now for the citizens who attend the CIF: what happens is that when people don't know what to do, they hire these Blue Knights to take care of everything, who are supposed to be able to solve any problem, and since the policemen know that is impossible, they resent the fact that people think it is not impossible, and a separation occurs and dialogue breaks down. So, the citizens come to the CIF convinced that lawmen are remote, that they distance themselves, that they are people you can't talk to, that they are people you can have formal relationships with, but never, for example, an ordinary conversation .

Then they all go through the CIF, and the citizens find to their shock that cops, as they invariably put it, are human beings. That may not seem like a radical discovery to you, but it seems to be for those who attend CIFs. A ProPosa1 from one meeting had the boldness and audacity to suggest that people ought to say things to policemen on the street like, "Hello," and "How are you?" and other things like that.

Law officials show up at a CIF feeling powerless to do their job, and discover that here are all these people who are eager to do something in cooperation with them. Citizens show up at a CIF feeling powerless to participate in the justice system except to be on the receiving end of it without being able to have any determination of it, and discover all these law officials who want their advice and help. Both groups, who begin the day as the impoverished ones, end the day as the enriched ones.

If the officials feel outnumbered by the citizens, and the citizens feel outdone by the officials, then the orchestrators sense themselves as outside of both' I think that is quite appropriate. That's the way it has to be, because the orchestrators are simply the enablers of the day. At least in the beginning.

The tools that the orchestrators have to work with are simply fantastic. For example, the two talks represent the finest opportunity that we've ever had for practical oratory. I think that people are deeply hungry, not for long dissertations, but for brief, pointed speeches that discern and articulate what's going on in their lives, and for people with our experience, that's not all that difficult to do. Those talks are a priceless opportunity.

As for the workshops, they are everything. All of the CIF is for the sake of the workshops, which, it seems to me, are a new form of parliamentary procedure. Robert's Rules of Order are just not helpful any more. You can't keep up with their technicalities. But you can keep up with a workshop procedure. I'm reminded of the people at a recent CIF who could neither read nor write, but, because of the compassion and sensitivity required in the workshop method as we do it, they carried their end of the load. They got their wisdom in, and it was Just as wise as anybody else's wisdom, and they got their part of the document written, and when they saw it they couldn't believe it. That's what I mean by the workshops representing a new procedure for deliberation, a new kind of feel. a new ordering of things that everyone can participate in.

In another case, a young man had gone berserk; he had been committing terrible acts of vandalism around the town and they'd arrested him. At the time of the town meeting he was out on bail, and he showed up there in a rage and everyone was scared to death and he was demanding to know where the town got the audacity to dare to call a meeting just to talk about him. That makes him sound conceited, but in a sense he was right. Because the town meeting was talking, not about him, but with him. And you guessed it; he turned out to be one of the most creative participants in the meeting, to the amazement of those who knew him. Remember that time when Jesus healed that guy and scared everybody to death because he wee healed? Well, this kid was telling them what was wrong with the community and what needed to happen so that he wouldn't happen again the way he had before, and they were amazed.

The workshops are the ultimate cure for experts, for they make an expert out of everybody. Whenever they are done, even poorly, they work. They not only work for the participants, they work for those who lead them. We had a little lady in one CIF who I thought was really in bad health. I thought during the day that her eyeballs were going to pop out like sometimes they do on a Pekinese dog. I mean I was really worried. I didn't want to be responsible for that. Afterwards, she wasn't even coherent, and I recommended to the people there that maybe she shouldn't do workshops. So wouldn't you know ­ all the Birchers who were there and all the dissident policemen ended up in her workshop. Not by design; they just ended up there, and so I suggested to her that maybe she wasn't up to it. But she went ahead and led the workshop. Afterwards, she came running up to me with this piece of surgical tape on her arm. I knew that she had donated blood the day before, and so I said, "Well, did you give somebody some blood today?" And she said, "No, I just had a blood test and the doctor said my blood pressure is better than it's been in years." I don't know how to explain that.

Then, there are the plenary sessions. Those conversations are tremendous. Those little end­of­the­day dialogues are the first opportunity I know of that we've ever had to do spirit conversations with the masses. They are genuine spirit conversations, especially the question, "What surprised you today?" The surprises abound. You haven't had the CIF until that final conversation is done.

The last event is the evaluation session with the steering committee, and that's the most fantastic experience I've ever had. I don't know how to ­ express appreciation for the opportunity to do that. I don't know that the CIF ones are any better than the regular ones, but I've been to six CIFs in a row, and somehow, the CIF evaluation sessions seem to be better. Maybe it's because you usually have the chief of police and the mayor and people like that there. Whatever the reason, they are tremendous. They are cadre meetings where it's not necessary to ask for a pledge of allegiance to the Ecumenical Institute, as we used to do in the old days. The trust there is amazing! I know people all over the place now that if any of us went to them and identified ourselves as being with the ICA, they would embrace us as colleagues on the spot, because of the experience they had in setting up and doing a town meeting. I hope someone writes a song that has a line something like, "Blessed be the relationship that holds steering committees together in missional love." For they are colleagues; they are connected in some way with this order; they are comrades on the march.

I want to make just one more observation, and this is in regard to the Global Community Forum in general. The GCF is the effective "Christian" liturgy for our day. Not as an option. As a necessity. What I mean is that the GCF is an absolute prerequisite at this point in history to people taking a proper relationship to the liturgy done in the local church. Let me put it more strongly: until people have experienced the secular liturgy of the town meeting, they have no possibility of experiencing the church liturgy as authentic .

In the town meeting, life as it is is rehearsed. In the local church, life as people wish it were is rehearsed. That's why GCF has got to come first, just as singing secular songs enabled us to sing hymns again. A few of us still think we ought to be moving on the local church ­these days. Well, we should and we will. But not until we do the GCF program. I believe that the local church has no hope of ever recovering the power and meaning of the liturgy. save people first experience it transparently in a GCF.

Isn't it incredible how corporate consensus about the way the world really is takes place in the GCF challenges!?...Not that damned silly individual stuff where you go to church and wallow in your pew and say, "O God I'm such a wreck that I can't possibly do anything for my community."...which is a guarantee that you never will do anything as long as you go to church on Sunday. We have found out very clearly that there's no way you are going to do anything to break down that attitude by moving on the local church directly. They're going to tell you to go peddle your wares somewhere else. But, when somebody experiences what it really means to confess the sins of this world, then he can go to church and re­interpret that God­awful thing that's going on there and use it as an incentive to go and help us do more GCFs.

And praise?...My Lord, in that interlude, people are on their feet praising the possibility of life before they know what's happening to them. Their experience of the morning bursts out into delightful expression, something which they would never do in church for a thousand years or a million dollars. You just don't do things like that in church. It's structured out; like a funeral parlor.

The third thing is dedication to the corporate consensus. Would you believe that a disparate group of people made up of youth, adults, blacks, whites, liberals, conservatives, can get together for the first time in their lives and within eight hours decide what they are going to give their lives to? Any pastor would tell you that you've got to have three years to build the trust necessary to make a congregation into a family before you can do anything...everybody knows that. And that's true in the local congregation. But in a GCF, people come to a consensus, and it's amazing the dedication they have to carrying it out.

Our calling today is to be and to create the Global Community Forum. It's the best means of allowing the world to hear the gospel that the world has ever had. I have no doubt about that; I don't think any of us do. It is evangelism pure...and simple. Pure, I say`; and simple. Evangelism. And it can use any human concern as its focus.

One day we're going to hold a community forum at the Aereopagus with the philosophers. Wouldn't Paul of Tarsus be proud of us if we did?