Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

With Toes Over the Edge and Wings on Our Backs

Written by: on October 14, 2020

For the past 10 years, Global Immersion has been relatively successful at honing, teaching, and training our message of restorative theology and practice of Everyday Peacemaking. We’ve identified the power of immersive learning as a central ingredient to the awakening of dominant culture faith leaders to the imperial theology (& its implications) that they’ve been groomed within.

The awakening that occurs throughout our immersions is the portal through which these faith leaders cross the threshold into a necessary pilgrimage of disorientation. We’ve discovered that many of these faith leaders eventually abandon the pilgrimage and miss the transformation that comes with it. Some return to the safety of their status quo and others become disillusioned and eject from their faith and leadership calling altogether. Few make it to a restorative reorientation yet those who do are evolving their churches into sacramental communities, redeploying their skills and resources restoratively, leveraging their influence to remake the spaces within which they live, work, and play, and are pioneering new restorative initiatives within their contexts.

We celebrate that some who embark upon the pilgrimage are discovering restorative reorientation. Simultaneously, we are dissatisfied with the disproportionate number of faith leaders who abandon the pilgrimage. We want to understand what causes them to eject and discover how we can become better at accompanying them through the pilgrimage.

This week, as I read Renner & D’Souza’s Not Knowing, I came across the chapter on Finisterre. Fittingly, this rocky peninsula in Spain is the conclusion of the Camino de Santiago and is Latin for “the end of the world.”[1] Yet, true pilgrims recognize that, rather than it being the end, it simply marks a new beginning into the adventure of the unknown. The pilgrimage has transformed the pilgrim into the kinds of people who are ready to step into the wild.

As I read, I reflected on how often we refer to our target audience as precipice dwellers. We are faith leaders who have been groomed into an imperial religion that has duped us into believing that the accumulation and protection of power, abundance, and safety is the “fullness of life” that Jesus referred to in John 10:10. The ascension to the American Dream has replaced the downwardly mobile journey of Jesus as the place where true joy is found.

We’re discovering the illegitimacy of that theology and ethic and, with toes over the edge of the precipice, are wondering what will happen if we jump from the safety of the known into the wonder of the unknown. We’re compelled to jump, yet, as Renner and D’Souze so aptly point out, “the edge is a mysterious place. It separates our current reality, what we are comfortable with, from what is strange, unexplained, undiscovered, and perhaps even undiscoverable.”[2]

The edge is where our fear germinates and our imaginations run wild. It’s the space where we are faced with the question of whether we are willing to sacrifice our status and stability within the known for a pilgrimage that will likely be wrought with danger, saturated with failure, and inundated with adventure. Our hunch is that the step beyond the edge will require levels of sacrifice and resilience the likes of which we’ve never know before. We imagine that the journey beyond the edge is the very thing necessary to transform us into the kinds of leaders who are ready and willing to join God and others in remaking the world.

We wonder when we take that step off the precipice if we will fall or discover that we’ve been created with wings to soar into new horizons.


[1] Renner & D’Souza, Not Knowing, 104.

[2] Ibid., 104.

About the Author

Jer Swigart

13 responses to “With Toes Over the Edge and Wings on Our Backs”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    In my imagination, I see the pilgrimage as both an individual undertaking but one that is also done in community. Whether it be with a guide of sorts or with fellow pilgrims all working toward the same goal, when the going gets tough we need that support in the midst of it. Though even then, there’s no guarantee that one will complete the journey.

    When I was first joined my previous organization, during training they always tell the story of how the Gospel first came to Mongolia. To keep it short, when Kublai Khan became the ruler of the Mongolian Empire, he was looking for a religion to make the official religion of the entire empire. Around that time, Marco Polo’s father visited the Khan and taught him about Christianity. He wanted to know more, so he told Polo that if he could convince 100 Christian teachers to come to Mongolia and teach him more, he would make Christianity the official religion. So Polo returns and tells the Pope of the charge and the call goes throughout Christendom.

    Only two answered the call.

    They began the journey together, but when they go to the Himalayas they found the journey too difficult, so they turned back. At that point, Kublai Khan saw that Christianity wasn’t “worth it” so to speak, so he turned to Tibetan Buddhism and made it the official religion of the Mongolian Empire. When you think of how far that Empire stretched, it makes sense why it’s so entrenched in so many parts of Asia.

    With this in mind, the journey to restorative reorientation is a difficult journey – a Himalayan mountain range so to speak. There may be a desire to follow that pilgrim’s path to the end, but is there a genuine commitment to it?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      “Only two answered the call.”


      It reminds me of a story I recently heard from a friend who hiked up to the Mt. Everest base camp. Along the way, his sherpa admitted that few US Americans come here. It is far too difficult…far to uncomfortable.

      I hear many speak of how much they’d love to summit Everest…and no only a handful who have done the work to actually get there. This seems to be the case with those of us who want to be liberated into a more spacious, restorative faith and leadership. We believe that there is a breathtaking summit out there…but few are willing to embark upon the journey because we are certain it will be perilous.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    My heart hurts for those who choose to return to their comfy spiritual places, who opt not to jump and sacrifice all for the reconciled and restored beauty that is to come.

    Jer, do you have mentors (fellow pilgrims) in place to come alongside those who are more hesitant? I am thinking of someone similar to a sponsor in AA who comes alongside another who desires to be clean of alcohol and live fully immersed in life rather than addicted and numb. The analogy can be easily applied to dominant culture faith leaders who drink deeply of imperial theology and partake of its bounty. I wonder if having someone who has jumped off the edge and found they can fly instead of fall, to encourage them not only to jump, buy also to begin flapping their wings and this is what that looks like, might be a follow up support to the immersive experiences you provide?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      It’s profound that you bring up the 12-steps, Darcy. This journey is one that I am exploring as I do think there are many cross-overs for dominant-culture white folk. And I do think that addiction (to power, abundance, safety) is an accurate concept to caputre what lulls many of us to remain safe.

      In my essay on Campbell, I explore in more detail the idea of the Supernatural Aid. While I bring up the roles of the mentor, perhaps I need to explore more deeply the the sponsorship practices.

      • Darcy Hansen says:

        Despite our faith roots in the supernatural, I find few actually believe in such transformative power. Many leaders love those tried and true methods, especially those adapted outside the church- they have such a strange love affair with the temporal. But as we have been reading, the temporal is grounded in as much truth as the holy. Maybe the sponsorship route would be a way to not just on-ramp (which it sounds like your immersive experiences provide) but a way to keep moving along into a particular direction?

  3. Greg Reich says:

    Your final line “or discover that we’ve been created with wings to soar into new horizons.” reminds me of one of my favorite passages of scripture. Isaiah 40. During a dark time in Israels history the prophet Isaiah was called to bring comfort to God’s people. It reminds them of the greatness and majesty of God. It lets them know God never gets tired and that even though youth get tired and men stumble, those that wait on the Lord gain strength and mount up like eagles ….(v31).
    Eagles fly higher than any other bird, some eagles build their nests on high cliffs over looking the world below. When it is time for a baby eagle to fly the mother eagle has been known to slowly dismantle the nest making the eaglet uncomfortable encouraging them to fly. It is often discomfort that forces us as individuals to stand on the edge preparing to take a leap of faith. Is there a particular leap of faith you sense you are being asked to take?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Beautiful passage, Greg.

      Honestly, I am beginning to view my day-to-day with the reality that there are multiple precipi that lie in front of me. Some are worth jumping off and others are better retreated from. Discerning when and why to jump vs. retreat requires we tune our ears to the frequeny or the Spirit.

  4. Shawn Cramer says:

    Jer, this fall’s reading is pressing me towards further understanding the emotional process of orientation-disorientation-reorientation. I realize I had fallen prey to the post-Enlightenment trap of over-rationalization “People need to know this.” I admire your team’s relentless pursuit of helping people stay on the journey. Catalytic events are helpful (and sexy), and are easier to fundraise over, but the grinding work is done afterwards. I’m eager to see what you all create.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Say more on the emotional process of orientaiton-disorientation-reorientation that you’re discovering. Is there a core emotion or feeling that accompanies each of these stages and that may hold us back from stepping into the next?

      • Shawn Cramer says:

        Not a particular emotion with each stage, but the overall feeling of disorientation, discomfort, pressing in to our own prejudices, feeling the pain of others, the emotional pull to the status quo. I doubt people abandon the journey because they intellectually give up, but rather the emotional burden. Just a hypothesis.

  5. John McLarty says:

    Your post reminded me of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Corps of Discovery. Once they reached the Pacific, they almost immediately wanted to explore more. They even split up on the way home so that they could continue to make new discoveries. And once the journey was truly over, several had a hard time returning to the real world. It is in the process that transformation happens- not magically at the final destination. (Though the end often offers the chance for the reflection necessary to make this realization.) I think that’s what Finisterre is really all about- partly because it’s the sort of “bonus ending” that not everyone who does the pilgrimage sees and partly because of the unique experience it offers. Still, you’re right about the trepidation we have there on the edge. What gives you the confidence to make the leap and to invite others to do so?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      It’s been multiple leaps before, in relationships with seasoned mentors, that gives me the confidene to leap again and again. The previous leaps have convinced me that the transformation on the airborn side of the precipice. It’s hard, painful, exhilerating, costly and always trasnformative.

      Like the L&C explorers, exploring new horizons is slowly becoming a way of life.

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    I have to admit, I’m not too sure what ‘Dominant Culture Faith Leaders’ means. It kinda sounds like a sect. I think I can see that around in the business and suits (like bouncy shoes and thousand-dollar get-ups), ‘lights and action’ Church. Kinda like a sect?

    Letting go at the ledge. Every single morning, into the unknown. Precipice dwellers, I love the thought of that. And, the downward-mobility of Jesus. What is next from the summit or, when the trails leads to the side of a cliff?

    Jump. Float. Fall. Feel. Relief.

    Amen, bro! Always appreciate how your flow can excite the imagination 🙂

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