As our year draws to a close, we feel that familiar mix of emotions many feel as we prepare for the holiday season — gratitude for all the gifts of the past year tinged with fragility and deep longing for a better world. As a team, we have cherished every opportunity to interact with you by email, at conferences, zoom meetings, and in-person meetings. One of the greatest joys we derive in this work is investing in the humanity behind our grantee partners’ incredible programs to “keep the spark alive” as you work so hard to restore human dignity and agency and repair the many fractures and divides of our world.
At the 2023 Center for Effective Philanthropy Conference in Boston this past October, many of the speakers spoke very personally about how they keep going in the face of despair and the sense of pending doom that lurks in the air today. Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, climate activist and co-editor of All We Can Save, spoke poignantly about not having hope from knowing too much yet still choosing to live in joy. Our team was struck by how most of the speakers exhibited this embodied quality of joy in just being alive and doing their part for the betterment of our world in the face of what they referred to as the “polycrisis” of our time. Dr. Johnson’s words were especially meaningful in light of our team’s reflection on her book last year as part of our learning around climate. As we look back on our year as a foundation, we as a team are so grateful to rub shoulders with and support incredible human beings like you who just can’t not throw yourselves into the many different crises at hand. As a foundation, we are not on the frontlines of the work that we fund but are close enough with those who are to feel and know the challenge of this work and how deeply relational it is. An unstated yet maybe primary reason we attend conferences is to absorb some intangible energy from being with others to “keep the spark alive,” to keep on keeping on even when we don’t feel hopeful.
Beyond “polycrisis”, there are so many terms and acronyms used in the philanthropic/social change sector to carve out lanes and approaches to maximizing effectiveness, impact, return on investment, proximity, decolonization, systemic change, intersectionality, the list goes on and on! So much brilliance and big ideas in this work and so much to keep learning and digesting as we each try to offer our best to the world. As Jacob Harold, Co-founder of Candid and author of the book The Toolbox: Strategies for Crafting Social Impact, notes, “The problem is obvious: the world is too complex for any single framework. We who are working for a better world — whether as users or providers of capital — need multiple tools to engage with that complexity. Whether we call these tools “lenses” or “perspectives” or “strategies,” we need a lot of them.” (Read the article from the Center for Effective Philanthropy). At the end of the day, this work is an inescapably human endeavor. As we approach the Holiday season, we are ever mindful of the deeply sacred and relational ground of our work. We can’t bypass our own humanity and hide behind slogans, institutional affiliations, and ideological ways of seeing the world.
As we continue to learn from and embrace many of these frameworks, we are reminded of the perennial spiritual wisdom of loving thy neighbor as thyself that motivated us as co-founders fifteen years ago. In our deeply polarized world with this-is-the-only-way fundamentalisms on all sides, it feels like the invitation to be good neighbors needs to be underlined again and again as we find ourselves increasingly alienated from one another. Whatever one’s political, religious, ethnic, or ideological identity or way of framing one’s values/work, there is something deeply transformative about simply experiencing one another’s shared humanity. “Loving one’s neighbor as thyself” is an end in and of itself, but it can yield dividends of joy and connection (dare we say love?) that are quite literally change happening before our eyes.
One highlight for us this year was celebrating 10 years of the Contemplative Fund and Deacons Fund by convening our Boston-based faith partners for a lunch with the theme: “Keeping the Spark Alive Together.” These grantee partners work in very different ways in the city— some more focused on outer work, addressing the myriad social problems facing our city and welcoming asylum seekers, others more focused on the inner life of change. We were so touched to be in the space together and share a meal with friends and partners. At the event, Rev. David Bailey spoke to us about his journey of discovering the inner, contemplative path of faith and how essential this is in the work of racial reconciliation to mend ancient wounds and bring people together. Indeed, there is a ground of being we all share as human beings. A place where we are more the same than we know, and we can meet and see if we can together repair the messes and divides we have inflicted on ourselves as a human family.
When we launched the Imago Dei Fund in 2009, we were motivated by our faith to be good stewards of the resources in our hands. There was also this very basic human impulse to do our part to be “good neighbors in Boston and beyond”. As we looked out over the room at that lunch, we were overcome with the notion that all gathered there were exemplars of being both good stewards and good neighbors.
Stepping back to reflect on all of our partners, your capacity to lead and work with relentless courage, integrity, and joy in the face of such seemingly immovable and compounding problems keeps our spark alive. It makes us want to be and do better as stewards of our resources and work at the Imago Dei Fund. Thank you.
Have a lovely holiday and may we all together seek to be better stewards and neighbors as we turn the page on a New Year,
Emily & Ross
on behalf of all of us at the Imago Dei Fund