Two events: past and future, community

Today, through a mutual friend, I ended up randomly meeting up with two beautiful people.  Tamara Park, author of “Sacred Encounters” and one of her traveling companions.  I have not read the book but now want to.  It bills itself as a bit of a travel journal as she treks through terrain between Rome to Jerusalem, and covers territory such as faith and doubt in between.  I suspect she picked up many stories along the way–she listened intently in the little half hour we had together, and while I wanted to hear more about her and her life she continued to simply encourage my own sharing.  What a marvelous quality to discover in some one else.  I hope to encounter her more and emulate the beautiful way of engaging the world around her that she seems to have.  Cheers!

The second event. Tonight Jessie and I embark on a seven week book club adventure reading through “A Theory of Everything” by Ken Wilber together with a group of fellow “post-Christian” adventurers.  I read the intro last night and found myself excited for the voyage ahead.  There were two things that stood out to me.  1) He talked about the “de-throning” of post-modernism by other more viable stories.  While post-modernity emphasized the nurtured cultural models of the beliefs we have concerning the world, making them little more than embedded myth and accepted fables; such discoveries as evolutionary psychology, chaos theory/complexity, and M-Theory/String Theory, have helped us realize that while things may not have readily apparent reasons for why they are…they still ARE!  In other words there are bigger stories than post-modernisms particular one, at work.  That intruiges me.  Another thing that Wilber said in the intro was particularly good: “we may not be able to get a view of EVERYTHING but isn’t a little bit of wholeness better than none at all?”  And I found that hopeful and redemptive.  All in all, I’m excited to take the journey together with my wife and other friends who all seem to find ourselves in the same space.  What dreams may come?  It will simply be good to gather around a challenging text and be stretched again. 

These are little blips of community that I see taking shape again… Receiving the stranger, creating space of sacred encounters, and then allowing others into the place of concept and stories to encounter something Other.

Shifting Social Structures

I remember how I used to think about systemic change, even though I probably didn’t use those words.  First, you needed a vision from which you then developed a strategy.  You then, either vaguely or concretely, outlined a time line of what you needed and when, and then you formed alliances.  People who bought into the vision were considered extensions of myself, little mirrors of my identity.  People who did not buy into the vision as outlined, quickly descended down the path of 1) The Other (not quite me…different…) 2) The Stranger (unrelatable…completely removed from my experiences…viewed with suspicion) 3) The Monster (vilified…often necessary to destroy or remove altogether). 

Underlying that kind of “strategic planning” were some basic assumptions.  Change was perceived as being top down and as requiring a level of management or control.  Change was viewed as a slow moving creature with long range implications with behavior as a mandated commodity, enforced by rewards/punishment.  Additionally, large scale changes were seen as depending on large scale efforts. 

But this really is inconsistent with how we view life at work in the world around us.  Margaret Wheatley, writer and teacher, suggests that the complex “emergent” phenomena follow a specific cycle: local action —> connection —->system.  Interestingly, within that little formula the only “controllable” aspect is the conditions for connectivity.  In other words, the thing that happens at the individual or local level is fairly free form and spontaneous.  The large scale “system” is almost unmovable or irreversible by the time it emerges.  This leaves only the middle point, connection, as within our ability to modulate or mediate.  In other words, if we are interested in “global” systemic change we ought not focus on the large system or the local network; we must focus on the place for committed connection.

I’ve been mulling these sorts of thoughts over in preparation for the Emergent Village “re-imaging” event.  How do I apply these types of thoughts to that environment?  As I’ve considered it, some of my brainstorming has included the following directive/suggestive thoughts:

1. Major on connecting:Internet, social networks, forums, conferences, etc

2.  Promote learning: resources, innovations, experiments

3.  Evolve Practice

In order to do these effectively it might become necessary to:

1. Cultivate institutional resources to develop connections

2. Bring practitioners (and curious) together more often for “think-tank” experiments (not unlike this upcoming one)

3. Seek Divergence–bring people from other idea fountains and experiences to share. Provide a space for insiders to become outsiders again…opportunity for conversion.

4.  Support local movements/cohortsthrough providing resources, ideas, on line forums, etc…but also encourage them to gather in regional connections.

In principle create an environment that supports local experiment that watches for and supports supportive dynamics and belief systems. 

All of this falls within the framework Wheately nicely establishes,   “Support diversity AND viability among practitioners”

It’s a tight rope being walked, there’s no doubt.  However, with imagination, authenticity and experiment I believe it can be done.

The tensions of creativity

Here’s another reason why the church is like art and should be approached by people willing to think of themselves like artists:

Form vs. Flow

There is a struggle at the heart of every person to both live within a form and break out of it–to burst over the banks and crash through the walls into something new.  This is vividly portrayed in art.  An artist will spend years developing the ability to speak through a certain medium, develop a style, hone their craft. It’s appropriate. They realize that flitting from form to form is disastrous–it ends with an inability to actually communicate what they feel and what they wish to portray.  Eventually they come to realize that they need form.  However, there are those moments when all the paints get thrown out. All the old colors are cast aside. The canvas is exchanged for the brick wall, etc…  In other words their own creativity, the desire to birth something new can no longer live within the old and well developed form.  So they strike out. They discover diversity and a meaningful difference.  Some would be tempted to say that they no longer need form or use it. But the truth is, they’ve just changed forms.  Even abstract painters or modern instillation creators are still inhabiting a particular place.

This is true of church.  We invest ourselves in a place. We throw ourselves into a particular aspect of God or each other and experience it fully.  Eventually though this changes. We struggle with what had previously been functional and now just feels like formula.  Then we “blow it up”. We go back to the drawing board. it’s tempting, in that deconstructive and reconstructive phase, to think that we are tossing aside all form. The reality is that we are simply exchanging.  We’re adapting. We’re being provoked. We’re investing in a different medium. 

I believe there has to be a tension and a truce struck between inconoclasts/puritans who would shatter every idol (save the idol of shattering every idol), and those who cling to their distinct channels of worship.  The truth is that we need both. There are two giftings at work here–prophet and priest.  One calls out authentic truth and the other ministers through symbol and sacrifice.  This leads to another similarity:

Discipline vs. Spontenaity

Most artists I know have both a rebel and a dictator vying for control of their soul ;)  And that’s a positive thing.  On one hand there is the side of them that can be in the middle of conversation, then suddenly inspired runs to a wall and starts painting in a frenzy, mad vibrant colors.  That’s pure spontenaity.  You can’t restrain that kind of lightening strike, nor can you replicate it.  But then there are the dry spaces…the times when you just don’t want to get out of bed.  In those moments the dictator comes out and in spite of lack of inspiration you go and do what you have always done. You paint. You draw. You write. You sculpt. You create even when you’re uncreative. And then lightening strikes again.

The church is like this. My experience with church life is that it can be a constant war between those who long for spontenaity and those who want order or organization. But this needn’t be a war. We need both. One gives life to other in an infinte circle. We need to room to feel like its ok to dash away from what we were planning on doing. But we also need to plan on doing something so that we’re in the right spot at the right time.  Faith practice gives birth to faith experience.  There is a healthy balance.

At the end of the day creativity/art and church share the same dynamic tensions. Rather than casting one side out and only holding on to the part that makes sense to this moment, we embrace both and live in that tension. That itself is an act of creative empowerment.

Possiblities vs Guarentees

I just got a puppy.  I know…stupid move right?  Well, you’re probably right.  Honestly, the sleepless nights, the random “accidents”, and needing the patience of Job to cope with his mischief have me second guessing the whole transaction.  Ah well…  Still, we picked a great breed.  If you’ve ever researched dogs you know that breeds have very different personalities.  Take for instance my old dog, Rigby.  He was an Australian Shepherd, a herding dog.  And guess what, he was constantly herding us, constantly working. We’re convinced that he never slept.  It’s amazing, we never had to teach him to do that. His instinct kicked in. He just did it. Born that way I guess.

I think that’s how I’ve viewed the church.  Like a dog.  Engineered for certain behaviors. No effort needed.

The funny thing is that it’s really not how it works, with dogs, with humans, or with the church.

It’s why you can’t seperate a pup from it’s mother too early.  If you do, it can’t learn the things that become “instinctual” to it.  The mother conditions it and socializes it to become what it eventually does.

With humans the same is true.  Go to a human development class, you’ll find out.  It’s all about conditioning.  And there’s a variety of opinions on what kind of conditioning works, some think constant and rigid training is neccesary while others say it needs to be hands off.  But everyone agrees that there’s an element of grooming that is absolutely imperative.  Or else?  Ever hear of feral children?  Tarzan or Moglai or Nell?  The rat girl from Texas? Without socialization, without training, without that conditioning kids acculturate to the void that surrounds them, be it rats or wolves or monkeys.  We become what we’re around.  Even though we have the possibility to function as a full human there is no guarentee…the right conditions have to be in place.

It’s true of the church too.  She may have the right genetic code but without early socialization and conditioned relationship with her parent she becomes a wild and erratic aberration of what she was meant to be. That’s why you find Paul freaking out in 1 Thessalonians where he was only able to spend a couple of weeks, “I long to come back and impart some sort of spiritual gift to you”.  He realizes that the right foundation requires time, energy, and interaction. And some will point out that it turned out alright in Thessalonica considering the second letter.  Except…the truth is the second letter is just as frought with concern as the first.  Paul is terrified that it wasn’t enough.  It keeps him up at night. He is grieving.  I can just hear the mystic home churchers: “Come on Paul…just trust the Spirit…These guys are the church…just let them BE.  When are you going to develop faith and not worry so much?” I love it because I’ve heard those words before…

The truth that Paul knew and that life confirms is that anything born to a particular destiny has the possibility for the glorious but NOT the guarantee.  Just like life the church requires effort and labor, we must “work to preserve the unity of the Spirit” (wow…I guess that means that unity of Spirit is something we can lose…), we must “press on towards the goal”, we must “set our minds on things above” (which by the way means, set our priorities on the things that Father values…this isn’t some kind of commendation to become of no earthly good).

Just “being the church” doesn’t guarantee that we will actually express Christ’s Body, the Church.  Alot of people get confused on this point.  They throw out “wherever two or three are gathered in my name there I am” as a reference for “church happening” as Christians get together for coffee.  I can just hear a latte foam lipped guru saying: “See…THIS is Church”…over a cup of joe.  But that verse keeps going doesn’t it?  It’s about church discipline primarily and Jesus is saying that we should feel a sense of freedom in dealing with issues even when the larger gathering isn’t present.  He ends by saying, having taken the issue before the two or three, if nothing changes, “take it before the church”.  Hmmm…it would seem then that according to Jesus the two or three certainly have Christ among them, but they are not the church…just parts of it.  Again, go back to life…my own body.  My hand IS the body…but it’s not the whole body…it’s only a little piece…without the whole it won’t work.  Again, I hear an argument coming.  This is really about the universal church.  We are parts of the universal whole.  Yes…true…but unless Jesus was advocating teleconferencing, when he says “take it before the church” he means the local, locatable, assemblyable, gathering collection of interelated people.  My point?  The Church isn’t just pie in the sky atmospherics that we ARE simply by the nature of being Christians.  There is an intangible element to it that seems to congeal mysteriously and takes us from being simply Christ followers to actually representing His eternal Body.

There’s no guarantee that this moment will ever come.  Just because you get a bunch of people who love Jesus into the same room you don’t necessarily have the full expression of the Church.  You may have the raw genetic material for it.  But, as in life, it requires some growing up…some conditioning…some socializing…

Referring to the last post…it requires the kingdom…it requires some space…it requires the brush being cleared, the gospel being declared, lives rearranged…and then, in mystery beyond mysteries people might notice a change, a difference…they might not be able to explain it, but they look around and comment, “I think the Church touched down. I think it’s being expressed.  We didn’t try for it. We weren’t aiming for that…we were simply responding to Him.”

A Third Space

I grew up in a typical “churchy-church-McChurch” environment.  No crazy scandals.  No heavy handed shepherding.  Largely my experience was “non-denominational” in nature–no deep sense of exclusivity (just your average exclusion of the poor, the self medicating, the repressed, depressed, homeless, culturally diverse, and otherwise marginalized).  But I want to emphasize the typicalness of my  “sacred environment”.

One of the memories that I associate with growing up was my great friend, let’s call him Joe, running into the “sanctuary” with his hat on.  He was skirting the edges, not making a scene, when one of the members of the congregation charged at him demanding he take his hat off.  I remember Joe being so extrememly angry about that–hardly understanding why.  The answer is one that you will know: “This is God’s House. It’s sacred!”

Another memory of talking in the back row, chattering while the pastoral monologue when on…guess who got called out from the pulpit?  We did.  That’s right. In front of 300-500 people we got called out.  For what? Because the monologue is sacred…the place is holy…the atmosphere is un-interruptible…

Well and the truth is, I’m just bringing to mind some atypical experiences to show a point: there are rules of engagement in churchdom.  The place is sacred.  And no matter how cool or how sheik or how urban hip your sacred place is it still works differently than your work or your house or your local coffee shop.  It is it’s own peculiar identity. Sacred. Removed. Away from the world and all the secular ravages such as science, entertainment, dialog, distributed leadership, and open source learning. Safe.

But at some point for many of us it became unsafe.  I, along with millions of others, retreated from the retreat space.  We went to the holiest, safest, most personally familiar spot we could imagine.  The home.  Home church.  Church in your house.  Sort of.  In my experience we worked hard to circumnavigate typical church models transplanted into a home…we tried to go beyond radical.  But the funny thing is, in many ways we couldn’t escape the psychology of the space we inhabited.

A home truly is a castle.  A well guarded fortress where the draw bridge is lowered only to our intimates, to those whom we have background checked, interviewed, screened, accepted, or pronounced “on the same road as we are”.   And, if you are one of the lucky ones who is allowed in there are rules that need to be followed.  Think of the elements in our language that confirm this: “house rules”, “inside voices” etc…  There’s a psychology of propriety and best behavior which may actually rival that of the sacred space.  It can (though doesn’t have to) culminate into a unspoken motto of: “we allow only the best on their best behavior into this sanctuary”.

I know all of this is stereotypical generalities.  And that’s unfair. It’s unfair to talk about sacred spaces as stuffy because not all are–in fact many are increasingly NOT. My friend Joe might not get a second look for wearing his hat or jeans these days.  And all my talk about the “sanctuary space” or “home church” environment is unfair also–this isn’t the experience for countless others who deeply value this.  But the reason I’m able to make generalities is because these are GENERALLY understood emotions and thoughts that are provoked by those spaces…people get what I mean when I say this…even if it’s not your experience–it is for many people–and even more so, it’s in their head…they believe these things…even if they haven’t experienced it for themselves.

All this to say–there is a 3rd space, as some authors have called it.  A public space.  The places where our best conversations go on. Where we “go to catch up”, go to confess our failures, go to reconnect with peers, go to unwind after work, go to get a break from the routines of the house, get into heated mutual disagreements, get challenged, get a beer, a coffee, or a piece of pie.  In the din of noise and focused clutter people are able to be their Attention Deficit Disorder selves. They’re able to cry and laugh and disagree.  They’re able to stand up at inappropriate times and even wear the clothes they feel.  They are free to get lost or be found.

There’s a psychology at work.

And I wonder…if the sacred space promotes the concept that “we are gathered with other believers away from the world” and the sanctuary home space promotes the concept that “we are gathered with acceptable and accepted secure peers away from the church”…what would the third public space emphasize?  Might it not influence people to imagine they are “on display”, they are “salt and light”, a city on a hill, or simply available to be engaged and interrupted…there for others?  Could that be?

I know this isn’t a new concept.  But, as one who’s experienced the first two spaces intimately, it seems very real.  I wonder what others are finding about the public space?  How has this been a positive experience, spiritually and personally?  Is it legitimate?

Boundaries

I’m finishing my degree in human development. My last class was called “Learning Theory” and the teacher is of the school of thought called “constructivism”… Now, if you don’t know what that is–well, you probably do but maybe not the word…instead of giving the child or student the answers these teachers “take a learning journey” with them. It’s not a matter of goals or destinations but rather of “process”.  And generally speaking–that is my thought too. That resonates with me–that’s my “tribe”.

The only problem was that this particular teacher used this rather nebulous form of teaching styles NOT TO TEACH!!! She didn’t teach us, no joke. The first week it was tolerable but the further the classes went, the more apparent it became that she was (and as a consequence WE) were clueless. It was a horrible feeling. As I student I felt powerless to “take the road less traveled” or “explore new thoughts”…I picked discussion topics that I understood already (or already had written a paper on)…etc…Because I didn’t know what was going on I stuck to what was safe and easiest…which sucks when your trying to learn.  In short, the class was a bomb.

Compare that with my new instructor and class. She is tough. She has clearly defined expectations. She is frightening…And here’s the deal–she doesn’t give us the answers either (she also would categorize as a “constructivist”)…but her boundaries create an environment of learning. I feel challenged and engaged.

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And then there’s the human body…turns out in the prenatal development of a child, the ambiotic sack of fluids restrains the child…it is a boundary. But without that boundary, that flexible, non-rigid, non-concrete, yet still clearly present enclosure, the child would not be able to stretch, flex or grow properly. You can feel a philosophical interpretation coming on, can’t you? Yup…Proper boundaries, flexible and liquid, provide us the ability to grow…

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Another example: The dutch. They’ve taken out the lines from the roads…because they’ve discovered that, psychologically speaking, humans tend to exhibit greater restraint when there are NOT defining markers…So people hug the safe edges and secure center when they don’t have lines…WHICH MEANS THAT WHEN THEY DO HAVE LINES THEY FUNCTION IN A MORE FREE MANNER!!! Lines cause people to branch out more NOT less.

It all seems counter intuitive to my rebellious mind…boundaries and structures and forms giving greater freedom. Weird.  Clearly drawn lines leading people to pursue with greater movement and creativity…Creepy.

And here’s where I’m headed…I think that the big juggernauts, the super saquatch style programs aren’t the answer or anything…really, believe me-that’s not what I’m saying.  But, the Bride of Christ is compared to a body–a human body with skeletal structure holding her up, shoulders distributing weight from the head to the body, skin binding it together, etc…structure, form…boundaries… She is not, never, not at all, compared to a jelly fish or an amoeba, those formless structureless gooey gobs of goodness and equality.

Flexible. Liquid. But…Forms…Lines…Boundaries. They cause us to grow, to stretch, to move more freely than we wish to acknowledge…more freely than I care to admit.

Your thoughts?

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