Can a podcast be a seed for social and individual healing? How can we expand Pendle Hill conversations?
Welcome to The Seed: Conversations for Radical Hope! In our opening episode, host Dwight Dunston and Pendle Hill executive director Francisco Burgos share their dreams for The Seed. Can a podcast be a seed for social healing? How can we expand Pendle Hill's conversations and spaces of transformation to continue building Beloved Community with a new medium? Dwight and Francisco discuss their own relationships to spirituality, activism, and Pendle Hill and attempt to answer the questions “Who is Dwight Dunston? Who is Francisco Burgos?”
Francisco Burgos is the executive director of Pendle Hill. Francisco comes to Pendle Hill from the Center for Community Initiatives at the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica. He was born in Santo Domingo, but identifies as an internationalist. Francisco was a poet, an educator, a father, and as a self described dreamer whose visions are grounded in reality.
Listen to Francisco’s First Monday lecture “Re Creating Hope” here.
Find the transcript for this episode here.
[“I Rise Project” plays]
If we are just conforming, I don't see hope. Hope for me is: let's see our reality–everything that is within it–and let’s try to make this place a better place.
Welcome, everyone, to The Seed: Conversations for Radical Hope, a Pendle Hill podcast where Quakers and other seekers come together to explore visions of the world that is growing up through the cracks of our broken systems. I'm your host, Dwight Dunston.
This podcast is a space where I'll be talking with Quakers, activists, artists, and members of the Pendle Hill community about their personal journeys and the moments of transformation that have guided and expanded their visions of the world and of themselves.
Today, we're going to begin at the beginning, here on the campus of Pendle Hill in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, where this project was born. I'm joined by Francisco Burgos, the executive director of Pendle Hill. Francisco comes to Pendle Hill from the Center for Community Initiatives at the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica, and is a self-described dreamer whose visions are grounded in reality.
Wow, Francisco, so great to have you here! So great to be here with you.
I am excited to have this conversation with you. I think that we have been looking forward to that for a long time.
For a long time! And here we are, at the onset of this podcast. This, wow, this path that you, and me, and many others will be walking on, as we explore themes around spirituality, around action, around art, around sowing seeds, about creating the world we want to see. I'm excited. Before we talk about where we're going, we got to talk about where we've been and how we got here, to this moment.
And so to begin, you know, this idea–our podcast–originally came from you! I've heard you talk about your ideas as your children, to some extent. As these babies that, you know, are these seedlings of ideas. And I think that's the best place to start.
Well, I think that the podcast, as you say, it has been a seed for a long time. Because I love the idea of seeing the process of transformation, which I hope that this space that we are creating, and that we are launching today, can be a space for transformation for many people–you know, “oh, that question, that conversation, that phrase, that poem, that song–how am I related to this opportunity?”–as a space, as an invitation for examining our life, and maybe finding new ways of dealing with their current reality in the world.
With beauty. With beauty, and with a strong sense of hope. The podcast for Pendle Hill came out of the needs of having an expansion of our many conversations that we have here in this place, [like] around the dining table. And that we come to them later and say, “Huh. Definitely this is something that is nurturing me. And I would like to continue exploring it in a way that can benefit not just me, but my community.”
Yeah, and I'm appreciating so many pieces of what you just shared, you know, thinking about the need that a community has, or the need that the culture has, and how a podcast and media can maybe speak to something that person was asking that question, right? Where might they turn for answers? Where might they turn for somebody to reflect back to them their experiences?
But let me reverse the coin here. We have been talking a lot about me, as the dreamer of this podcast, but I would like to talk a little bit about you. So…who is Dwight?
Yeah, thank you for that question. Dwight Dunston: I'm an artist. I'm a creative. I am a lover. I am a seeker. I'm an uncle. I'm a facilitator. I’m a deeply loving, silly, open person. Yeah, I’m a Quaker. I came to Quaker space as a teenager. I didn't grow up going into meeting for worship, or really knowing anything about the Society of Friends, and I went to a Quaker High School at 14. I didn't know it at the time, but it would be the seed that would be planted in me to really nurture and cultivate this sense of spirituality and action.
And as a creator, as an artist, I am someone who really believes in the power of art to transform: to transform individuals, and groups, and communities–and therefore society. You know, society is made up of individuals. Anytime you amplify the gifts of an individual, the society is ultimately–necessarily–amplified. Anytime an individual is able to be more healed or whole, then the entire society is more healed and whole.
So, I think about my art practice as supporting individuals to heal. And I know it does that, because it heals me. Even making art, even playing a song, even writing a verse–like, I feel a little bit more free, I feel a little lighter, I feel a little more connected. And so I know that has the potential to do that for anyone who comes into contact with the art that I make.
Yeah, it's interesting that you mentioned healing, because I think that this is part of what we are trying to create here.
You know, can a podcast be a seed for social healing? I think that as long as we foster connections, we can move forward with the agenda of social healing that is so needed in our current time. So I am eager to continue learning to, you know, to what this Pendle Hill podcast will offer to all of us.
What will it be!?
And I am so glad that you are partnering with us to walk with us this path.
Oh, I'm honored to be here with you and to be on this path with you. You know, I just loved how you just straight up said, “Who was Dwight Dunston?” Who is Francisco Burgos?
[laughs] Well, you know that I am originally from the Dominican Republic. But when I describe myself and share my identity, I describe myself as an internationalist. I try to really embrace the place where I am. I have traveled extensively within the Americas and felt that I belong to many places along the road. Growing up in Santo Domingo, I had the opportunity to explore my own spirituality through the Catholic Church. And I was lucky because in my community, we have a very progressive Catholic community. So when I moved here, in the US, I tried to relate to that faith tradition. And I felt a disconnection. I felt so frustrated with not finding a place where I could nurture my spirituality, that I visited a Quaker meeting. And I had that sense of, “Oh. Oh, this is home. This is really something that does speak to my condition.” So, here I am sharing with you about my own journey with Friends. And you started telling a little bit that the first encounter that you had with Friends was when you were a teenager, that you attended a Friends school?
So can you speak a little bit more about your own journey with Quakers?
Absolutely. I told you I grew up in West Philly, and I grew up going to Baptist Church. So as I think back about my spirituality today–and so many other parts of my identity, actually, my artistry–being in Baptist Church, a lot of music gets played. I was on the choir; it was the first time I really performed music in front of other people was in this church, and certainly having this sacred text and this faith tradition–of having the Bible as a text to study and learn from, you know–all of that was in my foundation in terms of my religious spiritual upbringing. And I got wind of this scholarship to this Quaker school, and it had ‘Friends’ in the title. And the first thing I thought was like, “Oh, I guess everybody's friendly, like, that's what it means. That's what the word friend means, you know, everyone gets along.” [Francisco laughs] You know, that was my 13-year-old brain, you know, how else am I supposed to make sense of the word ‘friends’ in a school name, than to think about how people treat each other? And I think it's really profound and fascinating that arriving at the school as a teenager, I did feel this sense of community. It was a spiritually grounded experience. 400+ people sitting in silence once a week: it was atypical to any other thing I had done in my life to that point. And so, naturally, meeting for worship, for me, not having a lot of relationship with silence and going inward in that kind of way… In the Baptist Church, even when we're doing a prayer, you know, or we're doing some silent reflection, there's like an organ or piano in the background, right, still playing…
You know, like, which sometimes–it can be really grounding! But there was something also profound about being 14 and being in this room–you know, I've never heard silence be more loud, you know, 400 people all in introspection. And then, you know, all of a sudden, someone would stand up and speak from that silence, and share a message, and then sit back down. And that might have been the only thing that happened for those 40 minutes. And I think, in entering meeting for worship, even as a teenager, because I was so fidgety that it was very uncomfortable to sit and be present with myself. And by the time I became a senior, and I knew that my time in meeting for worship was coming to an end, I started to get really sad, because I was like, “Wow, I actually really cherish this time to be searching for inner truth, nurturing an inner light, listening for that inner God with others, and with my best friends, with my favorite teachers, with my favorite coaches.” You know, just that time to be on that collective journey. But that solo journey, I was going to miss it. And so I think it was five years from when I graduated at 18. But that entire time, as I went to college, I lived in England, studying poetry, yet sort of life happens. But all the while that seed that got planted as a 14 year old, that really stayed with me…that really stayed with me. And so when it became time as an adult–this is where I identify as a seeker–I was on this journey where I knew the church wasn't going to nurture me in the way that I needed to be nurtured. Like, no regrets about those experiences, those years in the church–and I knew I was on a different path, that I needed something different. I knew it inwardly.
You are describing yourself as…somebody that, for many people, you would be described as an activist, yeah?
And how do you connect those huge components–activism and spirituality? Listening and looking back at your life path, how do you see that these two things came together so beautifully?
Yeah, I love it. Beautiful question. I always joke that I've been a facilitator pretty much my whole life; I only started to get paid for it at 24. Being a middle child growing up, I had to be acutely aware of what everyone was feeling, what they were going through, anticipate people's thoughts, anticipate their reactions, and I just got really good at reading a room, even as a young person. And so, shout out to my family ecosystem for helping to nurture those skills that I would later in life be compensated for. And, you know, that's both real and a joke.
I think I knew at an early age that it really mattered that people be listened to really well; if they were treated right, that they would feel more connected to a space. I really saw the power of care and compassion. Sometimes I like to ask people to think about a time when they were a young person and they felt affirmed, valued, and appreciated by adults in their lives, whether parents, or uncles, or older cousins, or coaches. And, you know, just rooting in that feeling of what it’s like to be a young person and be affirmed, and valued, and appreciated. You know, it does incredible wonders to what we feel like might be possible in the world and allows us to be really creative and expressive. And I hit people with the flip side of that question: you know, think about a time where you felt undervalued, not appreciated, unaffirmed, you know, hold those stories also alongside. And we know when we do that to one another, and especially to young people, you know, they get smaller, they go inward, they shrink down. And so I think I was very aware of that at a very young age. And I think we're all hardwired to be activists. [An] activist is more or less somebody who sees something wrong and makes noise about it. A baby will do this very easily. You know, babies are maybe some of the best activists on the planet: when a need isn't being met or something is wrong, they'll let you know. And so I think the activist piece was hardwired into me.
And then the spirituality piece: I have just seen the power of really deeply loving, and showing care, and bringing hope to ourselves and the spaces that we're in, and spirituality to me has to do with hope, you know. And I want to ask you this question in just a moment. Because we often talk about–and I often hear you talking about–another world being possible, right. And that's what spirituality means to me: having hope and faith that another world is possible. So the activism is speaking to that injustice or that wrongdoing, and the spirituality is that belief that another way of relating to one another is possible. And so connecting those two–my activism has looked different ways over my life, you know, I was involved in sort of prison reform and thinking about how we support folks returning from prisons, integrating back into society, and how do we treat them with their full humanity intact? I worked with an organization for many years, was on the board, thinking about the environmental impact of greed, and, you know, environmental exploitation, and how do we hold companies and banks accountable for the harm they're causing to the planet? And so, right, I think in both of those examples, I think I'm really living into, ‘another world is possible here.’ And also: ‘that thing you're doing is wrong. That is just, that's wrong.’ And so that's how my activism and spirituality have really been married and really close companions for the last few years.
Yeah, it is interesting, your relationship with the word ‘activist.’ The way how you are describing it is quite interesting to me, because in today's world, we have a very narrow view of what an activist is. And when I posed to you that question, I am thinking about the word ‘mystical,’ because for me, there is not a distinction between spirituality and activism, for example. Mysticism, in that regard, is a great way to describe what you were just saying, you know, how your spirituality allows you to discover that there is a need to protect the environment, and you must do something. Yeah? There is nothing more mystical than that. Yeah.
Well, thank you. Thank you for reflecting that back. I'm curious–you often talk about, you know, this idea of ‘another world is possible,’ you know. And it's going to be a central theme to what we do on the podcast. It's going to be what we ask the folks that are going to be sitting in the seat that you're sitting in–the same question of what that phrase means to them. You know, what's important about this time in history, this moment, the place we're in, individually, as a culture, as a society. But I would love to just know: what does that phrase mean to you? And why do you think it's important at this time that we even entertain thoughts around that idea?
Well, let me give you some background around that phrase and why that phrase is so key to me. You are very familiar with the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire.
So for Paulo, the idea that we are being in the world–not that we just are in the world, but that we are being–that action in the verb ‘to be’/‘being’ was critical, because that means that I cannot see myself as a passive subject in a concrete reality, yeah? But I must see myself as a active individual that is called to respond, not just to what is in front of me, but at the same time to explore with creativity, what I must offer.
When I was in my formation as an educator, those ideas were key for me to start seeing the world not necessarily with the constraints that were presented to me, but with a sense of hope and possibility. “Yes, but,” yeah? Yes, we are facing violence, but non violence is possible. And peace is possible. Yes, we are facing poverty. But a fair distribution of the world’s resources is possible. So, there is a lot of power in that. Because if we are just conforming to the current status quo, you know, I don't see hope there. Hope for me is: let's see our reality. Let's see everything that is within it. And let’s try to make this place a better place–not just for us, but for the next generation. So, “another word is possible” is a way to summarize all of that.
Another world is possible, but, you know, for that world to be real, I need to be implicated on that transformation, in making that possibility a reality. And at the same time, I need to really embrace the work of knowing the world as it is in order to see what the heck it is that we will be transforming.
Yeah. And in order for that to happen, I must–I must–embrace whatever task I can to make that a reality.
And maybe the podcast is one of them.
[Dwight and Francisco laugh]
Oh, it’s definitely…it’s definitely one of them. It is. I know you've been planting seeds wherever you go, Francisco, for the world that is possible. And I just want to just share my gratitude and love for the seed you planted here. And I know, I just already feel it: I know this podcast has the potential to support us in living into that world and being more healed and whole, because it's happening to me through this conversation already.
One of the characteristics that I admire of gardeners is hope.
You know, they...they plant that seed not knowing what will happen. You know, a bird can dig it, a squirrel, the groundhog. And here we are planting a seed for a podcast for this lovely institution among the Religious Society of Friends, but beyond the Religious Society of Friends. And in that context, as we are exploring each other here, what are you hoping for this space to be? What is your vision for that? If you can share that with me, that will be a very, very good gift for me.
I will consider my work done, right?
[Dwight and Francisco laugh]
Yes! Part of my other work in the world is centered on storytelling and supporting people to become better authors of their own story, their own narratives. And, you know, even just in our exchange today, each of us, we're telling pieces of our stories, some of which we've heard from one another, but some of the things were new to one another. And so my hope for this podcast is that as I sit here with the folks that will join me in conversation around many of the themes we talked about sharing their stories, their experiences, that it will invite people who are listening to ask themselves some of the same questions our guests ask themselves on their own journey, on their own paths. The listeners will go inward and ask those questions and reflect on their own experiences, how they arrived to that time, to that day, to that moment that they're going to be here with us listening. How they think about their spirituality, their activism, their artistry. And my hope is that from doing that process that people will know themselves more deeply. And sometimes, as we know, you know, some of that process of excavating who you are, and what I like to call your superpowers, your unique gifts, and talents, and skills–sometimes we go back over those moments [and] we might not be proud of who we were in that moment. We might not be totally pleased that we, you know, sidestepped our values or our purpose in this moment. But my hope is that we really can humanize our guests and thus, people listening will be able to give themselves grace and care and compassion in those hard places. And just have jubilation in those places where they're like, “Wow, I do bring this gift to my community, I did have this experience that transformed me, and I'm so grateful I am who I am because of this experience.” That's my hope: is that people are transformed by the stories and are inspired by the experiences and wisdom that our guests share. I really feel like the seed that we’ll cultivate here–yeah, and we might not be able to see the fruits for…ever! I gotta let that go. But my hope is that people are nurtured by that tree–whether it's by the shade, whether it's by the fruit that it actually bears, whether it's by the roots that are in the ground that feeds another tree that's closer to them, you know. But that this seed that we're planting here will be able to nurture.
That was great. That's great.
Pendle Hill is a Quaker center open to all for spirit-led learning, retreat, and community. We’re located in Wallingford, PA, on the traditional territory of the Lenni Lenape people. Visit us at www.pendlehill.org.
The podcast was produced and edited by Ariel Goodman, with the support of Pendle Hill education director Frances Kreimer and education associate Anna Hill. Our episodes were mixed by Leah Shaw Dameron. Our theme music is the I Rise Project by Reverend Rhetta Morgan and Bennett Kuhn, produced by Astro Nautico Records.
If y’all are listening to these last 30 seconds, you made it to the end with us. And we would so love it if you could subscribe, rate, or review us wherever you get your podcasts. It helps us to keep planting those seeds.
This project was made possible by the generous support of the Thomas H. and Mary Williams Shoemaker Fund.
[music continues playing and fades out]