January 12, 2009

The Power Of Stories: Day 1

The Dust Of Your Rabbi

Rob Bell often speaks about Judiasm. The thought is that to better understand Jesus, we should learn a little bit more about the world he grew up in. Makes sense to me. Anyway, we'll get back to Rob in a little bit.

I flew into Indianapolis on Saturday (got to the airport via the new light rail), but the conference didn't officially start until Sunday evening- so we had a little time to kill. In the afternoon, we went to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. They house a fantastic collection, but if felt sort of ironic that we traveled halfway across the country to visit a museum full of Western Art. Anyway, after perusing the museum I still found myself with a little free time. The hotel we were staying at was right across the street from the State Government complex, so I walked around and snapped a few shots of Indiana's gorgeous statehouse.

Downtown Indianapolis is a beautiful and vibrant place, and I've been trying to figure out why ever since I got back. I'm not bagging on Indy - it's just that the numbers don't fit. The weather is horribly cold and it's not that big of a city. Despite it all, there wasn't a boring night - maybe Phoenix could take notes? To be fair, some of the fun-having might have had something to do with there being a thousand (1,000) social change geeks just like me all in one city. Young enough to be optimists, old enough to enjoy adult beverages. Dangerous. Speaking of optimists and adult beverages, let's move on.

The big kickoff to the Conference was a keynote address by Robert Egger, Founder and CEO of the DC Central Kitchen. From his blog:

On January 4, 1965, during his State of the Union Address, Lyndon Johnson outlined his vision for the Great Society, which included a declaration of “war on poverty”.

On the 44th anniversary of that auspicious act, I spoke with close to 1,000 college students, instructors and nonprofit colleagues at the annual American Humanics conference in Indianapolis.

Talk about a solid way to usher in a bold new year…and talk about a wildly motivated cohort of future leaders. I tell you what, I’ve spoken all over the country, and flat out— this upcoming generation is our salvation. They are wholeheartedly into the “what’s next” debate and I aim to help them find their voice. I love my generation, and I will continue to try to be part of the dialogue that helps them loosen their grip on the sector, so that this new generation (who have more of an economic stake in the race than we do) can begin to try new ideas, new tactics and…at times, entirely new economic and political approaches to solving really tough social issues that charity alone cannot even dent.

I wish I transcribed his remarks, but I was too riveted. After the keynote address, a much less formal Q&A session started in the next room. Understandably, an hour and half talking about the V3 Campaign - and what steps are needed to get a cabinet-level post representing the Nonprofit Sector - makes a guy thirsty, so the conversation moved downstairs to the bar. There, the small group of us that had persevered heard stories about Robert's past in the nightclub business and the beauty of Washington, DC. We also continued to debate the political viability of the sector and our generation's desire to get paid what we're worth. Robert had started speaking that night at 7PM, and we pretty much closed the hotel bar down around midnight. I feel like there might be an invoice in the mail. Wisdom, $60 / hour. Nostalgic stories, $30 / hour.

In any case, after intense conversations I usually fall into a fairly contemplative state of mind, and that night wasn't any different. Enter Rob Bell. More appropriately, first century Israel. From Rob:

Different Rabbis had different sets of interpretations about how they lived out and understood and interpreted the Scriptures. Now, a Rabbi's set of interpretations was called a 'yoke.' So when you went to apply to a Rabbi to become one of that Rabbi's disciples, what you wanted to do was to take that Rabbi's yoke upon you so you could learn to know what the Rabbi knows in order to do what the Rabbi does in order to be like the Rabbi.

Tracking so far? Good. If you're thinking, "Sam has gone off the deep end. I know that Robert was one of Oprah's Real Sexiest Men, but that analogy takes it a step too far" just ask anyone who has had the pleasure of getting to know Robert. His positivity, deep passion for the individual success of everyone he meets, and love for tequila all make Robert's yoke pretty intriguing. Back to the first century. You've found a Rabbi whom you would like to follow. You passed the disciple test (yes, there really was one) and the Rabbi says, "Come, follow me." Well, go and follow the Rabbi. Again, from Rob Bell:

And after days of walking on dirty roads from town to town, you would be caked with whatever your Rabbi had stepped in. So this saying developed amongst the wise men and the sages. They would say to the disciples, "May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi."

All this to say that I now know what I want to do when I grow up - and in whose path I'd like to follow. I know that I want to help facilitate the political voice of the Sector. I want to be a dynamic, engaging, and inspiring public speaker. I know that I want to look at institutionalized problems with a creative lens, hoping for lasting solutions. And I know that I always want to be part of the "what's next" debate. And this was just Day 1...



"It does not cost anything to write. It does not cost anything to speak. But it will cost you and your generation tons of dough and tons of time if you are quiet."

Robert Egger


Aaron Stiner said...

Sam, what a beautiful post. Through eons, men have worked together as mentor and mentee, master and apprentice, so wisdom can be passed on from one generation to the next where it is refined, enhanced and leads to more powerful and creative solutions for the betterment of mankind.

It must feel good to have found your yoke. I look forward to your continued discoveries on your path. I think though that you already much of what you aspire to be!

Tall, Dark, & Complicated said...

I'd like to associate myself with the comments of Mr. Stiner, in a knuckle dragging, retired war horse kind of way.

Hugo Polanco said...

I love Robert Egger! He truly was inspirational and is a worthwhile role model. Thank you for posting this; I hope others see his worth and why we aspire to do what we do.