(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Collectivity

This blog was originally published
October 21, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Collectivity

Collectivity

I could have called this blog community – but I think that would be misleading. Well, perhaps not misleading, but shallow? Superficial? Hollow?

My understanding of community continues to deepen as I travel along this wee journey called life. Recently, I have had two experiences that have returned me to the idea of community and the nuance of collectivity.

The first catalyst has been this month’s edition of Geez magazine. This month’s focus, and perhaps, not surprising has been about collectivity! With all of its challenging articles, reflections, poetry and art a swirl in my head, the second spark was a recent and engaging conversation about Appreciative Inquiry (AI). In the chat, we explored how AI speaks to The United Church of Canada (UCC) in this time of change. Specifically, though its organisational processes are helpful, we discussed the way its philosophical lens invites us to let go of cynicism, apathy and fear.

How these two ideas connect, therefore, have helped shape this musing. As an institution, especially as ministry became more professionalised during the 20th century (some call this modernity), there was an ongoing shift to the professionalization of leadership (ministry).

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not intending to imply that this is good or bad, it simply is how the church (system) organised itself. The challenge – nonetheless – is that the world beyond the walls of the institution have changed (some call this postmodernity). One question, therefore, is how will we respond adaptively and robustly during the significant changes that are occurring in the secular world, in order to share our vision and mission (some call this the Good News) beyond our context?

This is, in essence, a call to review how we understand leadership. This is something with which I believe AI helps. More importantly, it reminds us of a significant history that reaches back to the egalitarian model of the early church. Some have framed this changing context in this way:

Modernity = Sage from the Stage
Postmodernity – Guide from the Side

It is certainly fashionable in the secular world to embrace the word community (some call this tribe), especially in areas of marketing and branding. Yet the early church beckons us to realise this word is less about simple a gathering of people (consumers), but the way the collective is connected. The metaphor often used in the Christian tradition is that the collective includes all the various parts of the body. And – this is the important part – the body cannot function without all parts: there is no one part that is more important in this collectively connected relationship.

Wisdom's Steward

Wisdom’s Steward

This reminder – maybe remembering is more concise – is intrinsic to the AI philosophy. The system (the body), as a collective connexion, possesses the wisdom to respond to the future based on the best that it has experienced in the past. This does not mean continuing to do what has already been done – after all this will only repeat the past and that’s not so helpful moving into the unknown. It’s an invitation to look to the places where previous intention/practice reveal experiences that are extraordinary. Once that wisdom/memories are unlocked/claimed, the exciting task is how to translate that into new and innovative practices!

The intrinsic trust in the community as a connected collective, therefore, ultimately has implications for how we understand leadership. This shift, therefore, can feel threatening for those who have been nurtured in an education and institutional model that places people in the role as the expert, manager and/or professional. To be clear, I do not think this threat is usually about ego, as much as it is about feeling ill-equipped to do one’s work (in the church this is vocational and is referred to as ‘Call) in new ways.

For the collective (such as a congregation) this shift is just as daunting. Often the community has looked to the minister, pastor, or Reverend for direction and guidance in a manner that is now different outside of our walls. To be invited to claim agency or equal part in the collective requires just as much trust in claiming this new role, as it does for those who are confronting shifting from Sage to Guide. It’s not an easy time, to be sure, but it certainly can be exciting!

If you are wondering how, just consider this church specific example: social media.

Social media has revolutionised the world. Political revolutions have been organised through media such as twitter and protests such as #IdleNoMore have reminded people they have both voice and agency. For the church (the UCC), the reality is that to engage in this organic and relational milieu cannot be one person’s job. There’s just too much to do and too many opportunities and considerations for our previous leadership model. How we awaken to the collective response in this one medium, therefore, I suggest speaks to how we might (re)consider imaginative and creative ways to continue to bear light into shadowed places. Ultimately, this is both an honour, and when done collectively, it is a “burden light!”

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|By-product

We’re living in funny times. It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten who we were and what that means for who we are. It makes for interesting times. Whether we’re talking about what we mean when we discuss ideals such as ‘universal health care’ or ‘democracy and social responsibility’ there seems to be a disconnect. Maybe (even more worrisome) is that we seem unable to find ways to have the conversations. And – when and if we do – too often they are charged in a way that invites judgement and anger. Then – of course – the cycle repeats with less engagement, more apathy and a sort of self-fulfilling story that no one seems to care or is only seeking what’s best for numero uno …

Lest we imagine that the context in which we find ourselves – church and faith communities – is any better at traversing the changing landscape, listen to Sunday worship conversations that explore generational differences. Or pick up a copy of The United Church Observer and read the Letters to the Editor.

Scars of Many an Age

Scars of Many an Age
Credit: Derek Σωκράτης Finch

What we thought was normal – institutionally – is now marginalised and those who are left behind keep trying to fit this new round world into our triangular one. Those still in the brick-and-mortar church sometimes focus on finding ways to get people back, bring the young people home, or invite others to fill buildings once bustling, which now sometimes only echo laughter and play long since assumed to be absent. If we can just tell people what we believe, we hope they’ll believe it too … and sometimes if experience seems to translate into failure, our own apathy sets in.

So I’m wondering about conversations and intention. I’m wondering about exploring this changed landscape in a new – old way. What if we acknowledged – even if difficult – that our language no longer makes sense outside of the church walls? At the same time, our desire for relationship and community has not changed.

What if we wrestle with accepting that outside of our walls needs have not changed since we were sent out to share the Good News? People are still hurting and in need. Children are still exploited and need a place to be the blessing they are. Women continue to confront violence and people are still judged for who they are, but who our culture would rather shape into something ‘normal’ and non-threatening.

Conversation on Rue Royale

Conversation on Rue Royale
Credit: Lea Duckitt

The funny thing about language is that we often assume it’s the reference point – the go to gauge of what binds us. Sometimes we give preference to our ideas and knowledge at the expense of others. But what if … even for just a moment … we imagine that the early Christian communities did something very different. What if instead of embracing cultural norms and assumptions, they explored understanding one another first? What if – in those difficult and awakening days – our early Sisters and Brothers listened to one another and those around them? And – in those times of deep hearing and awareness of connexion – then they formed words to explain what they saw, what they heard and that new language was the gift of the relationship – or just one of its by-products?

There’s no mould or perfect answer about how to navigate cultural changes that are – in many if not all ways – unprecedented. But what if you, your faith community left the walls and started conversation not geared toward neither changing others, nor converting them. What if you, we, and I asked our neighbours who they were and what they wanted? And maybe, they might ask us too? And … just maybe … without any indications of what the future might look like, understanding began as we saw ourselves as human, blessed and valued? I wonder what would happen next …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|(De)Construct

This blog was originally published January 2, 2013
by The United Church in Meadowood

• What is the task for a Christianity that longs to live into an egalitarian potential where people are valued simply for Being?
• What is the task for a Christianity that confronts human choices and systems that tend to devalue the very core of the community to which it longs to not only construct, but embody?
• What is the task of a Christian who wants to be Love to the Other, but must confront the reality that s/he is likely fitting into a narrative of judging with an agenda of conversion?
• What is the task of a Christian living in the pluralism of an interconnected planet?
• What is the task of the Reader, who is seeking and reading the musing of another who – sometimes – shares more questions as certitude as opposed to answers that might be too rigid?

Question Mark

Question Mark

I’m a questioner – I admit it. When I have the honour of sitting with someone in a space in which trust is extended, I find that it is the questions that are the mile markers, not the answers. I find that it is the right query that cuts through the fugue that too many answers create. It is the question, ultimately, that determines trajectory. Not surprisingly, then, the list above simply reflects a few that begin to determine my own direction as 2013 unfolds …

At the core of the questions is a realisation with which I am only beginning to explore. Those of us who fall into a rubric of ‘progressive,’ ‘liberal,’ and/or ‘post-modern’ Christians have had a tough go of it lately. What that means, what it has looked like and how it continues to be experienced is much too dense for a blog, but one example will suffice …

As a Christian with lots of questions I realise that we (whether my denomination or the larger ‘post-modern’ milieu) do a lot of deconstructing. We like to explore where we’ve been, how things may have gone awry and quite often we look to the Early Church: a moment in time that spanned approximately 300 years when Christianity was not compromised/seduced/lulled/apathetic owing to our proximity to power following the conversion of Constantine. We are good at dreaming, longing, perhaps even apologising for the place in which our understanding of the Christian call clearly stands in tension with what the world portrays a Christian should and does look like – and we do not want to be confused with that judgemental and intolerant lens.

Now do not get me wrong, I am not dismissing the appropriate challenges that arise from deconstruction and analysis. But … but, I’m not really sure that (on its own) it is faithful work. In fact, I’m not sure whether that’s an authentic manner to engage in sharing the Good News.

Statue of Constantine

Statue of Constantine

The Gospel we have inherited is grounded in the birth a wee babe. We get to choose to follow him. As he grows into adulthood, his life modelled a ministry that led to execution and resurrection, which ultimately shatters broken lives into wholeness. And those who claim to be his disciples, the inheritors of this truth, simply must construct the story for others. Intellectual apology and historical critique are – ultimately – first world problems: problems that do not meet the broken in our midst, problems that do not understand the nuance of translations from Aramaic, Greek or Hebrew, problems that are simply symptoms of a theological chauvinism that allows us to remove ourselves from a ministry we – nonetheless – long to offer to the world.

I’ve got a lot of question as 2013 unfolds. And – for me – what seems pressing right now is whether or not the ministry which I offer and in which I walk is really what Jesus the Christ modelled? Do the choices I make and those that unfold with the faith communities in my midst offer the Good News to a longing world or are we simply watering down the Gospel in order to lull ourselves back into complacent illusions that have – for some time now – offered easy answers? Whatever the answer may be to the question(s), I sincerely pray for you, for me and for those for whom the Good News is absent that intention and action become the plotline for the year that will be known as 2013.

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Early Christianity

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Generations

This blog was originally published July 18, 2012
by The United Church in Meadowood

30 Go, say to them, “Return to your tents.” 31 But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’ 32 You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. 33 You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.

Deuteronomy 5.30-33

Generations

Generations

I was recently listening to a podcast of CBC’s Tapestry entitled, Lessons for Loving. During the programme, gerontologist Karl Pillemer shared his work on The Legacy Project. During this research, he interviewed men and women over the age of 65 and asked, “what they had learned about how to live a good life?”

As I listened to the podcast, during a Sunday walk, it got me to thinking – seriously reflecting – about the wisdom in our midst and the reality that the church often mirrors a secular tendency to celebrate youth and to view ageing as a problem or something to be fixed, as opposed to gift. With the idea of age, youth and wisdom, I began to muse …

One of the commandments, which we often leave unspoken, is the direction Moses received to teach the people. This commandment laces its way throughout the Book of Deuteronomy. We are directed to share the journey of the people with the next generation. We are encouraged, through Moses as model, to not only share the story, but also to recognise that wrestling with moral ambiguity, challenging ethical considerations and navigating ideas such as purity, diversity, plurality has never been easy and – perhaps more importantly – has never been reducible to ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’

I know that there are many ways in which I could blog about this. Whether that be about our own cultural social-economic context and the demographics that face us with an ageing population that has access to a proportion of wealth that leads to questions and critique. Or perhaps the reality that a younger demographic continues to educate itself in a financial paradigm that is only creating part-time, no benefit jobs that leads to economic subsistence and – often – an inability to attain a standard of living in which they were raised. All important and appropriate discussion and – perhaps – some might like to explore such options in an ensuing discussion after reading this blog.

What I feel called, however, to address is the reality that so much richness and depth is lost when we live into any temptation that leads us to segregate the generations. The reality is that our Elders have wisdom and experience that cannot be dismissed, but too often readily is.

Note: I do not mean to imply that youth do not have wisdom – in fact our Sacred Stories illustrate quite the opposite at times. What I do mean, however, is that experience is often the place from which learning can be discerned. And age and experience often are connected along this journey we call life from which wisdom can be attained.

Generations

Generations

As we wrestle with those questions of financial context, we have men and women – Brothers and Sisters – who have living memories of the 1920s and 30s Great Depression. What might they have to say to us if we made space to listen? This is about relationships, not who is right or wrong. But if our faith communities are this age or that, separated by this kind of worship or that then all we experience is the stereotype. Then the gift of wisdom does not become a resource for those who will one day themselves become Elders.

No matter whether you come to church, consider coming to church, or attend once in a while, the Early Church made space for those wanting inspiration, challenge, healing, solace, succour, and to address the ills of the day. But – and this is the distinction – those reasons were grounded in the model of Jesus that began in community.

Though we can look to the Early Church as an example, it is in the example of Moses and the exile from Egypt and the journey through the desert. If we are not in community, if all of the ages are not present, if the passion of youth and the wisdom of experience do not mingle to imagine news ways to be community in new contexts then Sacred Stories simply become mediocre morality plays that leave one wanting … not resurrected!

The institutional walls should always look beyond themselves – we should be enabling one another to go into the world to offer Good News without need for recognition or proving anything. But that grounded faith that simply wishes to serve must begin in the communities of faith that endeavour to prepare the disciples of tomorrow today. The challenge is whether we can do that when we stand on the cusp of internalising the secular temptation to keep generations apart, as opposed to encourage that we are made whole when all are at the Table.

As with any challenge, I do not claim to have the answers, simply the observation that things seem askew . . .

• And should such a challenge resonate,
what can you do in your own communities of faith to ensure intergenerational opportunities
where all are seen as part of the same community?
• What are the blocks in churches that need to be addressed?
• What are the assumptions and stereotypes that reinforce separation?

Beginning to dismantling them in your faith community can be a model how to bring it to a world already entrenched in a culturally dominant narrative that inappropriately glorifies one age and proportionately diminishes another. Something that the ministry of Moses reminds us is not the way to abundance and blessing that the Divine longs for us to live into …

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Moses

A Deacon’s Musing blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Religious Freedom?

This blog was originally published January 5, 2012
by The United Church in Meadowood
& was entitled
A Deacon’s Musing: An Office of Religious Freedom?

It seems that during my Sabbath, following the Holy Season of Christmas, the Canadian Federal Government has added to its bureaucracy: The Office of Religious Freedom. I have been reflecting on how I might best – through A Deacon’s Musing – convey some of my thoughts …

First of all, I guess I need to acknowledge that I believe there are multiple truths that lead to God: whether all are equally helpful or useful to appreciate the Creator, which we know is beyond all our understanding, is more of head-space exercise than one of faith. The truth through which I spy God is Christianity: a ministry exemplified by Jesus and the resurrection that occurred among his Disciples, when giving up could have been very well what they chose after his execution. When in doubt, I default to this mantra: “If what you believe leads you to compassion for all of Creation, grounded in humility, then who am I to challenge.”

Okay back to this new Office …many critiques & challenges have occurred to me. The first hearkens to Orwellian doublethink, especially in relationship to human political structures. In other words, what we say or write does not necessarily mean what they do upon face value. Though no doubt this would be an interesting exploration, another avenue might be a discussion about how political ideological agenda of any given government can usurp, compromise or take over the language of another: in this case faith-based expression through the language of Human Rights. And, as I read over this last paragraph, perhaps these are not mutually exclusive to one another … regardless this is not the route upon which I chosen to tread …

What occurs to me, as a Christian who – like the rest of humanity – is political by nature is the equal recognition that the Christian experience, and in particular that of the Early Church, did not support the dominant political structures called Empire. In today’s parlance of politics we talk about the government, the state, or country. All, I believe, are simply expressions of the same thing: Empire. The very act of the Christian community has been to advocate, through lived experience, a manner of engagement that was political in nature, yet did not support the status quo.

The Way

The Way

The Early Church, composed of men and women, rejected the dominant structures and chose for themselves what life in community could look like and aspired to an egalitarian life that was both inclusive to all who were seeking and yet endeavoured to remove itself from the coercion of the dominant narrative of Empire. Members of The Way knew that the moment that faith became integrated into the state, it would be compromised and would not bode well for those who choose to continue to adhere to their path.

There were two ways this tension of compromise was confronted as the Christian church developed after the execution of Jesus. The first was immediately following the fall of the Jewish Temple in approximately 70 CE. In essence, as the Christian community moved away from the Synagogue it was seen to be a group that lived in tension with the Roman understanding of the Pax Deorum. What was central to this superficial understanding of multiple religious truths was that all were equal to one another, but only in as much as they reinforced the mechanisms of Empire. If, however, you lived your truth in a way that threatened this hierarchy, then you were deemed to have violated the Pax Deorum … and it is under this guise that we hear of Christians in the early movement being tortured and executed because they chose not to compromise …

After a few centuries of this, something weird happened and that is that the state – the Roman Empire – adopted Christianity as its official religion. Another thing the Way was aware of was that the closer to power you got the harder it was to maintain your identity. And the Christian community could not be any closer to power than on that fateful day in 312 CE when Constantine thought this might help him out of a lurch! The next struggle – and one that has been much more challenging for Christians – has been the development of Orthodoxy: no state can tolerate various expressions of truth if it is intending to maintain control. As power becomes centralised right truth (orthodoxy) must be utilised to quell wrong opinion (heresy).

So what’s the point of this historical gloss in respect to an Office of Religious Freedom? As a Christian exploring one’s place in Canadian culture, I think I have to be wary, perhaps even concerned, when my faith expression of truth now falls under the purview of an extension of any bureaucratic body. What is the role that the state has in determining what freedom means and how does that affect me if my faith leads me to a contradictory conclusion with the state? 20th Century Civil Rights movements have often been grounded in an understanding firmly rooted in faith and, in turn, has led to acts of civil disobedience and resistance. Whether one talks about faith communities that range from the Social Gospel movement, to the marches of Martin Luther King Jr. and more recently the Occupy Wall Street Movement, it has been a way in which Christians have testified to their faith. And now, in Canada, there is an Office that will be monitoring Religious Freedom and I have to ask: what happens when my faith comes into contradiction with the Office’s ultimate mandate of protecting the state? I guess, as Mal says to Jayne, in Pt.2 of the Pilot for the Firefly TV Series, “Well, that’ll be an interesting day.”

Blog links:

A Deacon’s Musing blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Letting Go

This blog was originally published May 7, 2009
by Emerging Spirit & was entitled,
Leadership: Letting Go

I was recently at a meeting and it was, as has been the case over the last two years, a meeting in which there was a lot of energy. This particular group of men and women have been meeting to review where the congregation has been, discussing where it currently is, and imaging where the Spirit might be guiding. In times of such intentional reflection there is always richness. This group, as with most that engage with leadership, modelled self-challenge, as well as comfort in listening to ideas that were either new or difficult. I suspect that many who are in leadership, either Ordered or Lay, have been in this place. And, as my own experience has evidenced, there are moments of profound insight, perhaps even revelation

Early Church to 600 CE

During a particular moment in the conversation, one of us was sharing an event from the past. There was much fondness in the recollection and the reminiscing was obviously held dearly. As we discussed the event and how it was lived out in the present and how it might work in the future, it became clear that the church had changed. Though the event that had provided opportunities for Fellowship in the past, it was clear that the current context in which we all sat was no longer appropriate for it. That was hard enough. The leader in this case clearly had emotional investment, had benefitted from the experience in the past and obviously wanted to share that with the family of faith who may never have had the opportunity. There were many tensions in that moment and then, or so it seemed to me, wisdom was spoken …

“It’s just hard to let it go …” And it is in that honesty, that vulnerability, that this Blog was conceived.

I do not have extensive personal experience about leadership in the past, though I have read a lot about how generational context has informed the way it has been lived out. Emerging Spirit has effectively used, in my opinion, parallel descriptions to illustrate the shift in church leadership from the ‘Sage on the Stage’ to the ‘Guide on the Side.’ Obviously any reduction of research can water down its import, but I believe this concise comparison helped in that moment. The leader, about whom I was discussing, shifted from a model that assumed leadership equalled ownership and, therefore, success was connected to the person who facilitated the event to a perspective that is grounded in a comfort to take chances: Chances that opened the door to accept that just because something that worked in the past and did not work in the present was not a reflection on the individual.

Resurrection

I think this event has a lot to say about both the leadership of today and wherever the church might be going, regardless of whether we mean ‘C’hurch or ‘c’hurch. Whoever our leaders are and might be, there is going to require a comfort, a confidence perhaps more accurately, in who s/he is and to live with the ambiguity that comes with failure. If we cannot let go of where we have been, while also being able to reflect on what we can learn from the past, we are simply going to continue to recreate the same structures and models in which we currently reside. Edifices that are clearly no longer contextually appropriate. If we can live into that role of self-assuredness that is able to differentiate success as being connected with how many are in attendance and from success that is not gauged by qualitative results, but quantitative ones, then perhaps this Emerging Spirit might be an opportunity for newness, for Resurrection.

The resistance to the intent of the Emerging Spirit Programme, as I have experienced it, is that it is comfortable with the reality that we do not know where we are going, and our society does not like that. There are few buoys or frames of reference that are similar to our current context. The most potent is that of the Early Church, which was composed of men and women who were inundated by a dominant culture that conveyed messages that did not encourage the taking of chances. We live in a culture of professionals and experts, where we doubt ourselves and acquiesce responsibility. Waking up can be a difficult thing To lead, to be a community of disciples, requires something that no amount of education, no volume of information can ever provide and that is Faith. Faith is not the rejection of knowledge or science, it is the realisation that all of the words that we have accumulated over the millennia are, perhaps crudely put, simply tools. Letting go is, finally, about humility and taking a step of Faith and then using the tools we have collectively developed to help nurture the Kingdom that will Be in the Here and Now …

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Christian Communion
Wikipedia: Revelation
Wikipedia: Early Christianity

 

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