First let me remind you what I mentioned in the other sections on social change. I’m not trying to recruit you to be social workers. I’m merely using my background and training in social work, parts of which I think are transferable to how we can follow Jesus’ example as a change agent, both with individuals and larger social systems. Whether He was healing the sick, feeding the hungry, consoling those who were mourning, or advocating for justice and rights from the religious or secular systems of his day, I think we can apply social work change strategies to meeting the needs of the suffering and oppressed of our day.
More often than not, when we listen to an individual describe their problem, we find that there are at least three levels for intervention, micro, macro or a combination of both. In the previous sections on micro and macro change, we discussed various approaches to individual problems, which would include family problems (micro); and those problems that are presented as individual problems, but it soon becomes evident there is some larger system, that is not meeting the needs of the people they were meant to serve. For example, the welfare or health care systems, when for some bureaucratic reason a client is denied help and they have no other alternative. In those situations, the immediate need of the person and the need for the institution to be responsive are the foci of change (micro and macro).
If a person is starving, you need to meet their immediate needs by providing food (micro). As I mentioned before, “you can’t eat retroactively”, people’s immediate needs for food, shelter, clothing, health care are urgent and need to be met. While macro practice focuses on “cleaning up the swamp”, by focusing social change activities on those institutions, social policies and underlying causes of problems that individuals face, there is a need in most situations to deal with both the micro and macro issues.
For example, when I first moved to Arizona in the late 1960ies, social agencies and the newspapers had an “annual back to school drive” that collected clothing, back packs and pencil boxes for “needy” children going back for a new school year. They also collected money each Christmas for a program called Christmas is for Caring
That is exactly what I meant when I wrote about the Person in Environment (PIE) in the introduction to social change. We need to do both. Here is a website that has a number of good examples how this is being put to action
In the masters program at Fordham I was trained as a clinical social worker (micro practice). In the doctoral program, I specialized in community organization, social policy and planning (macro practice). For most of my professional life, I felt if I really wanted to follow Jesus’ example by applying what I learned as a social worker, I had to be involved on both the macro and micro level. So, in addition to my private practice, where I worked with individuals, families and groups as a therapist, my involvement on agency boards, professional organization, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), or by accepting appointments from three different governors of Arizona to different state boards, I used the skills I had learned in effecting change on larger social systems. I was, from a social work perspective a generalist.
As president of Parents Anonymous an agency that offered services to both parents who had abused their children, and to children who had been abused, at the same time we advocated for changes in the state’s Child Protective Service programs , when they were not effective in protecting children. Today I’m still involved at the macro level by serving as president of the board of Dillon Southwest, an international adoption agency. This gives me an opportunity to use my knowledge of adoption that goes back to the early 60ies, when I was executive director of Catholic Family Services in Schenectady, NY. Foster Care and adoption were two of the main services we provided.
The basic principle of generalist practice is that change agents are able to utilize a problem solving process to intervene with various size systems including individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Working within the person-in-environment framework includes conceptualizing prevention and intervention within a process-oriented, systems model in lieu of traditional models that often limit interventions to the individual. For example, an intervention plan with a troubled adolescent might include his/her family, school, and others system that can be supportive to the adolescent.
Here is a brief framework of the major concept that underlie the delivery system for any social change organization:
Micro Level Intervention Targets
Some frameworks place family and group under mezzo and include only individuals under micro change.
Macro Level Intervention Targets
- Organizations: Corporations, Agencies
- Communities: Cities, Neighborhoods
- Society: Global, National, Regional, States, Policies
- Change Agent: Persons(s) Carrying out the change. Could be an individual providing therapy or leading a group or a team writing policies, or team advocating for a cause.
- Client or Target System: Persons Benefiting from the Change
- Action System: All Those Involved in the Change Process
- Stakeholders: Key Players in the Change Process
Finally, the knowledge and skills of the generalist are transferable from one setting to another and from one problem to another.
One of the considerations, which underlie a decision to pursue macro change, is what theologians, philosophers, and politicians refer to as the Principle of Subsidiarity. If we consider social policy as “values in action”, this basically is a values issue. This principle is considered by many religious and secular organizations as the concept that a central authority should have a subsidiary function. That is, to provide only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. In other words, it means the State shall take action only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the communities -society- and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effect of the proposed action, be better achieved at the state level. It means that policies should always be made at the lowest possible level, and that the higher level should only legislate when there is unanimous agreement that uniform regulation is necessary.
For example, if an adult can’t provide for him or herself, ideally his family should be the first ones to care for her or him. In hard economic times we see many adult children moving back home to live with mom and dad. When I was working as an intern at Welfare Center 59 in Long Island City, New York in the early 60s, before any member of a family was considered eligible to receive welfare payments, there was a legal requirement that we had to prepare a “subsistence” budget for their closest relative. If it were considering an adult child for welfare, we had to have their parents provide information about their income and expenses, and if there income was over a certain amount, they had to pay the difference between what they made and what the welfare department determined was needed for them to live on and, the welfare department would deduct the parents’ contribution from payment the department had determined a single adult needed to live on. That policy was eliminated years ago, because they found that eventually the parents who had been providing the money ended up needing welfare assistance themselves. In cases where the parents weren’t able to contribute then the potential participant would have to approach a non-profit charity agency for money to live on.
Apparently, the Principle of Subsidiarity still has value today. I noticed recently that the principle was referred to in a four page letter that Congressman Paul Ryan sent to Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to alert him to some of the issues in House Budget Committee that he chairs and was passed by the House of Representatives for Fiscal Year 2012. I suspect that he was looking for an endorsement by the Archbishop, a fellow catholic. Ryan suggested that the Budget’s reform of Medicaid and other proposals were “…informed by the principle of subsidiarity” , and went on to quote from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church that instructs: “…it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what a lesser and subordinate can do.” The fact that the congressman used this quote surprised me because he has said on a number of occasions that he was inspired to go into politics by reading Ayn Rand books and, has instructed his staff to read Rand’s work if they wanted to understand how he thinks. As far as I know, Ayn Rand and her gospel of selfishness, is not included in the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church.
Be that as it may, to the Archbishops credit, he did remind the congressman that,
“A singularly significant part of our duty as pastors is to insist that the cries of the poor are heard, and that the much needed reform leading to financial discipline that is recognized by all never adds further burden upon those who are poor and most vulnerable, nor distracts us from our country’s historic consideration of the needs of the world’s suffering people.” Amen.
- This is an academic article by Shari E. Miller, Carolyn J. Tice and Diane M. Harneh entitled: The Generalist Model: Where do the Micro and Macro Converge. Although the article is intended for professional social workers, I believe it can be useful for those of us who aren’t social workers, but wish to engage in social change at different levels. For further information contact Ms. Miller at her email address at the University of Georgia, Athens Georgia.
- Review by Michael Baxter of Charles E. Curran’s book , The Social Mission of the U.S. Catholic Church: A Theological Perspective. Published by Georgetown Press. As I was writing this section I thought, If Jesus, who shared our humanity, lived in the 21st century, he might have been a social worker. After all, during his three years of active ministry, he not only preached the essentials of loving your neighbor by responding to his/her corporal and spiritual needs, but he gave many examples of compassion for those who came to him in need (micro change). Not only that, on a macro level he was crucified because he was seen by civil and religious leaders of the time, to be a threat to their positions of power. In the words of a slogan of anti-war, civil rights, and anti-poverty movements of the 60s, Jesus was preaching, power to the people.
- Poverty, Race Research & Action Council (PRRAC)—As the title of this website indicates, it focuses on community action in the areas of race and poverty. It lists links to projects on: Housing, Poverty, Health, Civil Rights and l Human Rights. On this page on this webpage there are complete copies of articles published from 1993 through 2009. There are 201 articles, mostly regarding poverty, racism, and other issues that Jesus preached about.
African American Models of Community Organizing [PDF]. This is a research article by, Bonnie Young Laing, PhD, from Virginia Commonwealth University. After describing the methodology for the paper, she presents her analysis of the results and five theoretical concepts describing African American approaches to community organization that emerged from the data:
- cultural dynamics;
- locus of the community;
- organizing goals;
- mobilization methods;
- change strategies.
- One of the areas that the church has championed for years is Peace. From the time of my youth I can remember praying for peace at every Mass. One of the peace movements illustrious proponents is John Dear a Jesuit priest, peace activist, and the author of more than 20 books, most recently, A Persistent Peace, Put Down Your Sword, Transfiguration, You Will Be My Witnesses, Living Peace, The Questions of Jesus and Mohandas Gandhi. Here is a recent article of his that appeared on the National Catholic Reporters website. The title is, On the Galilee 72, by John Dear SJ.
- I believe the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes sums up Jesus’ and our mission as well as anything he taught in the gospels. The sermon clearly relates to social and individual change. Here are three articles by Jack Mahoney SJ that appeared on the website for Thinking Faith, a Jesuit magazine in the UK. I found each of these articles very thought provoking and nourishing. The author brings up issues that I never considered.
- Making the Reign of God a Reality, by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, National Catholic Reporter, July 22, 2011. Since Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom or Reign of God, and it is our role as Christians to acknowledge the Reign of God that is within us an spread this throughout the, a macro and micro task indeed, I thought Bishop Gumbleton’s article said this as well as anyone could and would be inspirational for our
- How to Liberate America from Wall Street Rule. “A Report from the New Economy Working Group”. As described on page 3, “This report addresses issues and options largely ignored by the current public conversation on financial reform. It confronts the need to not simply fix or reform Wall Street, but rather to create a Main Street-based money and banking system accountable to local communities and responsive to their needs. The intention is to redirect the conversation to deeper issues and options that the establishment has so far kept off the table. The essential issues are straightforward matters of values and power readily understood by most everyone—as this report intends to demonstrate.”The report was prepared by an ongoing New Economy Transitions discussion series organized by NEWGroup and the New Economy Network—an informal alliance of individuals and organizations. It is forty-one pages that are well worth reading, even though you might not agree with all their conclusions, our economy should be one of the major targets for change.
- Here’s a brief video of Keith Olberman interviewing Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton. The topic is America’s Widening Wealth Gap. This gap between the very rich and the very poor was not what Jesus had in mind when preached on the shores of Galilee.
- We Didn’t Start the Fire, a song by Billy Joel. It alludes to headline events from March 1949 (Joel was born on May 9 of that year) to 1989, when the song was released on his album Storm Front. The song’s title and refrain mention “the fire,” an allusion to conflict and societal turmoil. This particular rendition on youtube focuses on the war in Vietnam and war in general; Joel asserts that social conflicts can’t be blamed on his generation alone, as “the fire” has been “always burning since the world’s been turning.” As I viewed this video, I felt as if my whole life was passing before my eyes. PEACE!
More resources will be added.
You’ve probably have heard many sermons over the years that bemoan the fact that there are too many in the congregation that are “Sunday Christians”. They come to church regularly to worship, praise and adore Jesus and to give thanks to God for their many blessings, but as soon as the service is over and they rush to the parking lot, it’s every “man” for himself. What happened to their sense of community and resolve to follow Jesus’ example and his admonition to love thy neighbor? Not just at the Sunday service! Perhaps they just don’t know who their neighbor is.
They seem to have forgotten how Jesus replied when a lawyer asked what the greatest commandment was. Jesus’ reply was that second to loving God, “To love your neighbor as yourself.” When asked who our neighbor is, He did not answer directly, He went on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. Remember, it was the Samaritan, who demonstrated compassion and love by caring for a man dying in the ditch, beaten, naked and abandoned from an assault by robbers? It was not the priest or the Levite who saw him their beaten, naked and abandoned. They passed on to the other side of the road, ignoring the victim. But along came a Samaritan, who instinctively showed his compassion. Hearing this parable at that time in history, must have had an impact on those who questioned Jesus, because they would have been very aware that there was no love lost between the Samaritans, who came from the north and Priest and Levite who came from the south.
When asked, Jesus refuses to define who our neighbor is. Instead he asked a question. “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers hands?” The lawyer who asked the original question sheepishly responded, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” Jesus’ message is clear; loving our neighbor is not limited to family or friends. It’s showing the love of God to all who are in need, whoever they may be, whatever faith they belong to. His message to us is the same, “Go and do the same.”
For us to follow Jesus, we must reflect God’s love by loving one another. Not just in words, not just to those who share our same beliefs, but by our actions to friends and enemies alike. It’s often easier said than done. Jesus is more direct in Matthew, 25:35, when He reminded us who we needed to serve, “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me something to drink… I was naked and you gave me clothes…” etc. Then He was even more explicit in the Beatitudes (The Sermon on the Mountain), Matthew 5-6, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” And “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.” Etc. In our current vernacular, He was saying, If you want to follow me, you need to be a “change agent”.
I strongly recommend a website that deals with these issues in great depth, and has references for where to go to get involved in social action projects you might be interested in. The website is Following Jesus. It has examples of how we might follow Jesus almost two thousand years after his birth. For example, homelessness, visiting the sick and imprisoned, caring for the environment, or working for peace and justice, all have excellent references.
One of my good fortunes that I had on my life’s journey was to be sent by my bishop to study social work at Fordham University, so that I eventually could be director of Catholic Charities in Schenectady, NY. At that time I had no idea what social work as a profession was. I just obediently followed his orders. I soon was introduced and embraced social work, its values and it practice model for social change. It opened up a whole new world to me. It became my way of being a change agent and follow the social gospel.
I intend to use what I learned in my social work training as a model of change. It’s not the only model but it made sense to me. Social work is basically grounded in our Judaea/Christian heritage, which believes in the dignity and worth of every human being. It believes that we don’t have to become someone or belong to a certain religion, be of a certain gender or be heterosexual, or a member of a certain social cast or income level, rather just by being a human being we are already someone and we can thankfully accept our rights as outlined in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights,
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed…
For me, the social work practice model fits perfectly with my understanding of the type of action to affect change that Jesus might have had in mind for his followers in the 21st century. Social work doesn’t have the corner of the marked on the model I’m going to describe. Change theory is used by different organizational systems to achieve a higher degree of output or self-actualization. One of the differences with social work and other profession who are change orientated is that social work deals with both small and large systems, Micro and Macro. The underlying theory of social work practice for change is Person in Environment (PIE). As the title indicates, the focus for change is both on smaller system, e.g. individuals, families and small social networks (Micro); while the focal point of Macro practice is on changing larger systems, such as neighborhoods, communities, governments, and other organizations. That is, those systems that impinge on individuals and other smaller systems. Macro practice encompasses a broad spectrum of practice, including planning, program development, community organizing, policy analysis, legislative advocacy, program evaluation, task-oriented group work, community education, and human services management.
PIE is a holistic, since it is interested in effected change at different levels and takes into consideration cultural diversity. For example, a person who is homeless and hungry has an immediate need for shelter and food. Since a hungry person cannot eat retroactively, and has an immediate need for food, we follow Jesus’ example by providing food to the hungry person, but from a macro perspective we need to help change the other systems that might be causing the problem of hunger and homelessness. This could require advocating for jobs or job training, affordable housing, or programs to meet their needs until they can support themselves. We need to play both the role of enabler, by helping the person become capable of coping with situations or transitional stress by meeting their immediate needs and advocating for the resources they need to be able to pursue what Franklin D. Roosevelt – The Four Freedoms in his address to Congress on June 6, 1941. The third and fourth freedoms are particularly appropriate for macro change:
The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
FDR goes on to articulate what I believe is a mandate for our engaging in social change. A mandate that I believe Jesus would have given if he lived in America in the 21st century.
Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions—without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society. From Congressional Record, 1941, Vol. 87, Pt. I.
For a powerpoint presentation on Social Change and Social Action that I developed when I was teaching at Walden University, click here. It provides:
- A Definition of Social Change
- Theories of Social Change
- Roles of Social Change Agents
- Ameliorator—Health and human service workers
- Social Reformer—Legislative Activists
- Social Actionists—Saul Alinski, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Rebel—Students for a Democratic Society
- Revolutionaries—Simbinese Liberation Army
- Strategies of Social Action
Have you noticed that an increasing number of formerly “religious” people identify themselves by saying, “I’m not religious but I am spiritual,”? I suspect that for many it’s because they’d rather say that, than identify themselves as an atheist or agnostic. Perhaps it’s because they have become disenchanted with organized religions for any number of reasons, but still believe in God and have a need to acknowledge a higher power, without having to profess a particular faith tradition.
I read in a recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that approximately one-third of those who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic; which means that roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics. I’m not sure how many of those “ex-catholics” call themselves spiritual, but I suspect it is a high percentage.
My own experiences in speaking to many folks who do not identify themselves with any religion but identify themselves as spiritual, is that there is often confusion between religious and spirituality. A person I spoke to recently told me, “I suppose if I were being admitted to a hospital and they asked my religion, I’d tell them I’m catholic, even though I haven’t gone to church in years. If I were to say I’m a spiritual person, it might take too much explaining.” I’ve heard others say, “I’d tell them I’m a ‘recovering catholic’.” It’s this kind of ambivalence or confusion that prompted me to pursue this topic both here and on my blog.
Below, I have a number of links to the topic that I believe will be helpful in our dialoguing on religion and spirituality. I have them here as references that you may use when I bring up the topic on my blog. Or if you just want to explore the topic on your own, hopefully these articles and essays will be useful.
- Religion versus Spirituality a Spiritual Problem: Reconnecting Experience with Tradition by David Tacey – I suggest that this article by Dr. David Tacey be read first. I found it very helpful in distinguishing between religion and spirituality and realizing how they can work better together than separately. He argues that Spirituality and Religion are becoming disconnected and they need to be re-connected., since they both rely on the other. In his opinion, Religion focuses more on community and worship and, spirituality is usually, but not always, based more on an individual’s experience. I personally have a need for both a sense of community and my own sense of awe, when I meditate, read inspirational book, or just discuss a specific topic with someone else. All of these spiritual experiences can lead to feeling of awe.
- This is an article by Emmy Silvius, a lay theologian, that appeared in the Australian website Catholica – Her commentary is based mainly on Dr. Tacey’s premise of how religion and spirituality might be reconnected. Her belief is that Spirituality is not just a selfish, individualistic pursuit, but that it has a community aspect.
- The author of this web page asks the question: “I think that Spirituality is believing the universe is alive, and Religion is believing it expects something of you. What do you think?” Good question! Basically, it’s a position the Creation Spirituality believers embrace. (see Mathew Fox’s website) So, what do you think?
- The Journal of Religion and Spirituality – This journal has a number of resources that can be very helpful.
- Enlightened-Spirituality. There are a number of interesting web pages on this web site. For example if you scroll down the main page, you’ll find information about how a variety of religions describe and practice spirituality: Buddhism, traditions of the Jewish Kabbalah, Hinduism, Islam etc.
- Interesting interview with Dr. Micael Ledwith – Since he retired as a catholic priest he has gone on to appear in the groundbreaking film, What the Bleep Do We Know? He has also produced three volumes so far in his own series of DVDs that deal with fundamental matters in relation to spiritual evolution, and three more of which were scheduled for release in 2010/2011. In 2008 Ledwith published The Orb Project, a book detailing his intensive five-year study of orbs, which was co-authored with German physicist Klaus Heinemann. He is currently working on a new series of books titled Forbidden Truth, a three-volume work that focuses on human destiny and the mechanics of spiritual evolution. The interview with Dr. Ledwith and SuperConsciousness Magazine speaks at length about his life, his choices, and his passion to know God as himself.
- The following reading illustrates some parallels between Native American spirituality and the Buddhist way of life. The authors of this web site chose themes and readings for their proximity to Buddhist teachings. They are not meant to suggest that Native American spirituality and Buddhism are the same or share similar historical source, both are different from one another but share some similar viewpoints and religious experiences.
- This web site is authored by Orrin Lewis, a Cherokee. He says in his introduction that, “This is my personal homepage – I am old-fashioned and I don’t like to put my picture on the Internet.” He might be old fashioned, but his web site contains a wealth of information besides this article entitled Seeking Native American Spirituality: Start Here.
- This article by Jody A. Long, J.D., Near Death Experience, Religion and Spirituality, is described by the author as one of the last frontiers of study surrounds spirituality and Near Death Experience (NDE). She also suggests that this is a highly sensitive issue due to the nature of religion. What this study attempts to do is to objectively look at the data submitted by NDErs to the website and to categorize the answers. Questions that are analyzed include pre and post NDE religious preference, and changed beliefs. There are some surprising results that focus on universal purpose and order gained from NDE understandings.
- There are a number of rich spiritualities within the catholic tradition. These spiritualities have their origin in great spiritual leaders after whom they are named; for example, Franciscan spirituality is attributed to teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, and so on. A particular spirituality is a system, or schema of beliefs, virtues, ideals and principles which form a particular way to approach God and therefore all life in general.Even though these spiritualities are different, does not mean they are contradictory. They all have their roots in the same Christian heritage and they all aim at the same goal – to love as Jesus loved. The difference is a matter of emphasis. The differences give each approach its unique character traits.To mention just a few of the more familiar: Ingnatian Spirituality, Franciscan Spirituality, Benedictine Spirituality and Dominican Spirituality.
- In addition to those from the catholic tradition, here is a website that provides spirituality from other faith traditions including: Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox Christianity, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslin.