Monthly Archives: January 2009

I will go, though I do not know the way

Frodo volunteers to take the One Ring to Mordor, even though he isn't a hero and he does not know the way.

Frodo volunteers to take the One Ring to Mordor, even though he isn't a hero and he does not know the way.

One of my favorite examples of courage and uncertainty comes from Lord of the Rings.

Early in the story, there is a council where great leaders from the different peoples of Middle Earth are arguing what to do about the one ring. Famous Dwarf, Elf, and Human fighters and wizards all try to show that they are brave, and full of bluster they fight over how to destroy this ring that has the power to destroy them all.

The only way the ring can be destroyed is to throw it into a volcano in Mordor, in the heart of the evil Sauron’s territory. And even though all of the heroes want to seem brave and strong, they are all afraid to take the ring there.

And so the argument continues.

Until one person, Frodo Baggins, a small hobbit speaks up. He is no heroe. He has won no battles and he knows no magic.

Frodo steps forward and says, “I will take the ring to Modor! [pause] Though… I do not know the way.”

Can you be like Frodo? Can you take on task even when you do not know the way?

Often in peacemaking and jusice organizing, we are called to great challenges: fighting racism, trying to end wars, working to rebuild communities. And we often do not know they way.

We are often called to work we feel unprepared for, when we do not know the way.

In all honesty, I do not know the way to peace in Iraq of Israel/Palestine. I do not know how to stop global warming.

And by humbly admitting what I do not know, I am open to new insight into how to proceed.

This sense of being sent out and receiving guidance along the path is also a common theme in the Bible. When Moses was sent to Pharoah, God promised guidance, saying “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:12)

Isaiah writes, “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).

And in the New Testament, Jesus tells his followers when they face persecuting by the authories that they should “not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12)

Do not let not knowing the way stop you from beginning, there is a community with you to support you.

In Lord of the Rings, after Frodo volunteered to take the ring, he did not go alone. The heroes shared the journey with him, as did his loyal friend Sam. All of them together played a role in overcoming Sauron.

In our work for peace and justice, may we, like Frodo, have the courage to go forward even when we do not know the way, and if we surround ourselves with a supportive community.

You can do it, but you have to train for it

A training plan gradually built up my strength and prepared me to run a marathon. How can you build up your organizations strength to achieve your goals?

A training plan gradually built up my strength and prepared me to run a marathon. How can you build up your organization's strength to achieve your goals?

When I started running I could barely make it 3 miles. After that, I was out-of-breath, my knees screamed, and my stomach felt woozy.

But I kept at it. I ran a bit farther each time. The more I ran the more I could run.

Now, I have three marathons under my belt, and it came from consistently doing what was just at the edge of my ability, and watching my ability increase.

Community organizing is the same way. Organization strength grows just like running strength does; by consistently completing efforts that are just at the edge of your ability.

I see too many social change organizations that want to do the equivalent of running a marathon without working up to it.

So when faced with the recent escalation in Gaza, for example, I hear people saying we need to completely reverse US policy toward Israel, that we need to stop Congress from passing a resolution supporting Israel’s “right to self-defense,” and that we need to do this immediatly.

Let’s be honest, that’s more than running a marathon, that’s more like running the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon.

I would like to run Badwater, and I would like to see the U.S. have a balanced policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I know I’m not ready to do either just now.

Is this a call to despair? No, far from it. This is a call for honesty and a movement “training plan” to make us strong enough to achieve our goals.

Keep that long-term vision of a balanced US foreing policy toward Israel and Palestine. Keep that goal of running Badwater. Keep that goal of universal health care, of eliminating nuclear weapons, and eliminating malnutrition.

Then develop a plan to build up the strength or your organization and your allies to get you there.

Each of my three marathons has been difficult. For each of them I followed a training plan to get me ready to run all 26.2 miles. This training plan told me how far to run, how hard to run, when to run, and when to rest. And that marathon training plan came after I had successfully shorter races.

So if our goal is to change U.S. policy in the middle east, the first step is not a 180-degree shift in policy; it’s a 2-degree shift. Maybe the first step is to get funding for coexistence groups in the Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Maybe it’s getting an interfaith coalition to raise money for humanitarian relief for Gaza to show that Jews, Muslims, and Christians can work together and do all want to end the suffering.

I said earlier this isn’t a call to despair. In fact, it’s the opposite. Always failing because you take on more than you can manage, that is cause for despair. Taking on a realistic, thoughtful way to grow and strengthen so you can accomplish more than you can now? Not that’s a cause for hope.


For a great tool to plan how to acheive those steps along the way to your goal, check out the Just Enough Planning Guide.