Read This Book: Emergent Strategy


Each month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty or administration to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our March recommendation is offered by Lyndsey Godwin, Assistant Director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality. Lyndsey recommends Emergent Strategy” by adrienne maree brown (AK Press, 2017).

“Trust the community” is one of the lived practices and ongoing mantras of the Rev. Diane Faires, and something I learned from her firsthand when we were both students at VDS. When the anxiety was high and our tendencies toward perfectionism and individualism were running rampant, Faires would act and speak out of this core tenet, no matter the context: group projects, international travel, community organizing, or hosting collaborative events. It continues to be one of the most salient takeaways from my time as a student, as an aspiration—to build trustable, accountable communities; and an action to perpetually practice.

While it is a continual journey to learn ways to “trust the community”, adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy feels like a handbook full of possibilities and tools for developing these practices and to help us dismantle “the oppression of supremacy” and build a transformative and transforming world where all can thrive (142). brown is a healer, facilitator and doula of social justice, and writes Emergent Strategy not as a set of dictates or expert positions, but tools and ideas to test and adapt. It reminds us that we are still in the beginning of co-creating a new world, and that if we can give ourselves and each other grace, then together we can build resilience. If we can remember that growth is not linear, but iterative, then we can always be ready to change and adapt. And if we can if we can practice reflection and radical honesty, then we can see that “nothing is wasted, or a failure. Emergence is a system that makes use of everything in the iterative process. It is all data” (14-15).

brown invites us into being more deeply human through community, through examples that reconnect us to the fact that we are part of the natural world, a world that is inherently interdependent [as illustrated in the book through the wisdom of geese, starlings, oak trees, and mushrooms (84-5)]. And by inviting each of us to claim our right to write ourselves into the future using the visionary possibilities of science fiction, particularly the ever-creative and vital insights of Afro-Futurism.

It is our right and responsibility to write ourselves into the future. All organizing is science fiction. If you are shaping the future, you are a futurist. And visionary fiction is a way to practice the future in our minds, alone and together (197, emphasis mine).

Right now we are living inside the results of other people’s imaginations—people who couldn’t imagine Black people being free, fat girls being sexy, disabled people being leaders. People who could only imagine their own power and dominance. When more people imagine together, and then step from imagining into thinking through the structures and protocols of a society together, then more needs are attended to (248-9).

As the assistant director of the Carpenter Program, my work and the work of our program is to be a conduit for skills, tools, and knowledge that allow communities to have deeper, more impactful conversations about the complex intersections of religion, gender, and sexuality. This also includes naming and wrestling with the realities of white supremacy, ableism, classism and more. At its core, our work is about developing communities and leaders who are seeking to build a world of dignity and justice. Work that often requires a little holy trouble, a whole lot of radically honest self-reflection, and deep dedication to building accountable relationships amongst difference. If you are curious about this work or you see yourself in this work, then definitely read this book.

Emergent Strategy is the invitation you have been waiting for to find your path, your way of being, in building the world we all want to live in. “Uprisings and resistance and mass movement require a tolerance of messiness, a tolerance of many, many paths being walked at once” (119).