Recently the US negotiated with the Nicaraguan government for the release of 202 political prisoners. One of the prisoners who was set to board a plane bound for the US was Bishop Rolando Alvarez. Alvarez has been speaking out against human rights violations in his country, and he has supported the poor and workers’ rights.
As was reported by Catholic News Agency, “President Daniel Ortega, who leads Nicaragua’s socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front party, has governed Nicaragua continuously since 2007 along with his wife, Rosario Murillo, who is now the vice president. The regime has variously been accused of corruption, voter fraud, imprisoning critical dissenters and journalists, and committing violent human rights abuses against the people of Nicaragua.”
What is so extraordinary about Bishop Alvarez is his willingness to remain in solidarity with those in his country at the expense of his own security. Standing at the foot of the stairs of the plane that would take him to freedom, the bishop decided that he couldn’t leave his people behind.
The bishop displays extraordinary moral courage, as he is about to face 26 years of prison time, but his willingness to support his native countrymen is a nod to the power of belonging. His presence will no doubt inspire others to be strong and fight the good fight as Jesus fought the fight with others.
His action inspired me to look deeper into the psyche of people who demonstrate what Lawrence Kohlberg termed, “post-conventional moral thinking.” Alvarez is thinking on a totally different level in regard to one’s moral responsibility in society and stands with the greats like MLK, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela for standing with the marginalized in a unique way.
I came across the work of Dr. Bill Plotkin who is an Eco-depth psychologist from Durango, Colorado and lectures about “belonging.” Plotkin has identified four types of belonging: social belonging, eco belonging, soul belonging, and generational change belonging.
Social belonging is just what it implies. We all need to belong to a family, or a group, or gang, or community that will help us grow and nurture us and meet our basic sense of security needs.
Plotkin emphasizes that “two aspects of belonging are critical to our foundational thinking of belonging. First, “none of us feel a sense of belonging unless we have someone who is excited to see us – a teacher, a friend, a family member.” The second part Plotkin mentions is “authenticity.” Plotkin states that we need to show up as an authentic person. “Personal authenticity is important in the act of belonging.”
Eco belonging identifies that need to belong to nature. We find our way and recognize by connecting with nature in unique ways. We have a kinship with other species. We are related to everything on this earth. There is a deep sense of relation to other beings. Without identifying with nature, Plotkin says, we lose a sense of our ability to identify with others socially.
The third belonging relates to the first two. Soul belonging is a deeper more mystical experience of the social community and the eco community. “We discover what indigenous people call original instructions. My deeper identity is defined and rooted in this place of community and ecological systems. We learn this through metaphor and the mythopoeic identity.”
As a result of identifying with the first three forms of belonging, we create a fourth kind which is transformational for the world.
The fourth kind of belonging is to this time of cultural regeneration. Plotkin quotes Joanna Macy who calls this “The Great Turning.” We are moving from a functional survival society to one of enhancement. Plotkin said, we have moved from an “Industrial growth society to a life enhancing society… We have a deep desire to find our place in making a difference for future generations.”
Bishop Alvarez has reached the pinnacle of Christ consciousness. His inability to leave the struggle, his inability to separate himself from those who are suffering is taking on new implications and identifying for us a new living saint. As I look at Plotkin’s model for “belonging,” it’s not hard to pinpoint Alvarez’s evolution as an important moral leader in our world.
More importantly, the bishop is teaching through his example that there is a sort of belonging that rises above the conventional standards of going along to get along. My sense is that he has discovered on a deeper level that this stand of solidarity is a fundamental gift in community that can inspire change within a society. An act of taking a stand and knowing one’s place in belonging to a community can fill a void he may not even know is there.
Identifying with a group through activism can be a transformative experience. Although we may not all have the moral courage of a Bishop Alvarez, the small actions we take in service can help us evolve spiritually and morally.
This is what Jesus was calling forth from his disciples when he inspired them to go out into the world and heal. Go out into the world and be present to others and nature, so you can be fully realized as human beings and offer transformative change.
There is within Alvarez the implicit understanding of what it means to belong. No jail, no four walls can hold this man because he is already free of this world. He knows where he belongs and knows that nothing can contain him.