We are excited to share that A Deacon’s Musing blog, which has been hosted here now has its own new website and social media platform! As the blog enters it’s tenth year, we hope this next step honours the engagement that has been a gift to experience and points forward to further opportunities to muse, reflect and act!
Whether you are a for-profit, non-profit or charitable organisation, Maya Consulting takes its selective relationships with clients very seriously. We intend to nurture not just your brand and online presence, but offer ways to reflect your passion in all you do!
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.
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!”
I often hear, from those seeking or simply rejecting organised religion, that the church is no longer, if ever it was, relevant in their lives. On the other hand, as if that is not challenging enough, when I work and walk with congregations asking questions about purpose, mission and their role beyond their walls, there is lament about how to be relevant. At the very least, both this challenge and grief help us navigate where the two might meet …
Interconnected Image: Steve Johnson
For those for whom the institution does not seem pertinent – well, we’re not even on their radar. And – if we are – often the first place we might be a blip is in the realm of social media and – particularly – around topics of social justice and prayer/mediation/centring. For those for whom the question of relevance is a concern, often how to respond requires a shift to realise that the world that has been our normal in many ways no longer exists.
Even in these connexions and differences, I believe the tricky part is the word itself: relevant. The initial or historic meaning of the word comes from a Scottish legal reference to that which is ‘legally pertinent.’ I think this is helpful as a way to ask what is the intention, as opposed to the definition, of the word we are using? What do we mean when we use the word ‘relevant?’
In our consumer based culture, this legal terminology seems telling. As such, here are a few ways we might frame the word in this legal and consumer context:
How can you give/convince me what I want?
What do you have that I want?
What do you have to say to me that allows me to hear what I want to hear/expect to hear?
How do I make sure what I am offering sounds like something you want?
How do I sell you something I have, which you may not yet know you want?
And – if any of these questions fit – a contract is established, a sale is made and both parties are happy … except in our consumer culture this is always temporary. The product is – ultimately – simply the means by which we perpetually consume.
As a people of faith, with millennia of spiritual practice, we have to acknowledge this is quite different than what we likely mean by being ‘relevant.’ As Christians, we have to realise this is not Good News … this is not a temporary product, but a way of life that invites people to embrace and live love, in order to bear light into shadowed places …
Definition or Intention?
As I paused and mused about this tension, I discovered a set several of synonyms, which caught my attention. These alternatives for the term ‘relevant’ seem to create a bridge that connects those seeking and those sharing. Words that might describe a space where those who find something is missing and those who think they have one way to bring meaning, might meet.
What might it mean, if we substitute relevant for related? Instead of asking how are you relevant to me, we might ask, how are we related? What binds us?
What might it mean if we substitute relevant for mutual? Instead of asking what can I get from you to bring me meaning, we ask how we might mutually bring depth to our lives?
What might it mean, if we substitute relevant for reciprocal? Instead of asking what can I get from you to bring me meaning, we ask how might we reciprocally recognise that in one another we are more than what we are told if we accept that we meant to simply consume in isolation?
I’m not sure what the answers might be, but I have an inkling that the conversations themselves would begin to reveal potential and possibilities worth imagining …
We are excited to share some samples from our latest partnership with Little Britain United Church! We are working with them to provide design and maintenance of their WordPress presence. Some of the more nuanced tools used have been a robust event calendar and utilising table databases, such as sharing their historic cemetery! As well, we have been honoured to help nurture their social media presence on Facebook!
Whether you are a for-profit, non-profit or charitable organisation, Maya Consulting takes its selective relationships with clients very seriously. We intend to nurture not just your brand and online presence, but offer ways to reflect your passion in all you do!
It is with excitement that we share a recently completed and launched WordPress project. With collaboration with A+ Computers, the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario of The United Church of Canada and Halftone Pixel, we have created multiple templates branded specifically for The United Church of Canada UCC). The intention of this project is “that this resource will allow for both recognition of a United Church ministry and enough flexibility to reflect well the blessing of each specific context.” Please checkout the Mailchimp blast for more information about this exciting denominational and national opportunity for ministries of the UCC!
Funny … this last blog until September is called ‘Online’ even though I will be going offline for a bit … irony 🙂
I have been musing about lots of things as I move toward a time of Sabbath and study, for which I am VERY enthusiastic about what lies ahead in August. Though there have been many threaded thoughts, some not necessarily yet wed to any tapestry, I keep returning to the fact that one of the larger projects upon which I have been working (for the last 18 months) will be launched nationally this coming August. In fact, it is being coordinated to go ‘live’ with the gathering of The United Church of Canada’s (UCC) 42nd General Council.
As Sisters and Brothers gather at our triannual gathering in Corner Brook, NFLD, a denominational WordPress project will become available nationally. For those for whom WordPress is new, think of WordPress as a mannequin and this project will provide templates – wardrobes – with which to dress the mannequin.
This is very exciting for me. Since I have been in the denomination (1997), there have been a multitude of things that have endeared and emboldened me about the UCC. It has been my experience that the UCC shines most brightly when it/we speak confidently when we are living justice, working cooperatively with ecumenical and interfaith friends, and making difficult choices that are not always popular. These are just a few of the institutional values, which I have found align most intimately with my faith.
What has been a challenge is seeing the digital milieu – such as social media, websites, or smartphone apps to name but a few – as a secondary way to share the Good News. And – when done well – often this has defaulted to a local ministry group or congregation in which the gift and skills are present to utilise these emergent and emerging media to share mission and vision.
What I hope this new initiative will allow – to borrow from the secular – is an opportunity to present our brand from Coast-Coast-Coast with an online website presence that is recognisable as UCC, yet flexible enough to add the flare (think boas and lots of bling), which reflects the particularity of any ministry that decides to use one of these wardrobes! In fact, if you are reading this blog, which I sure hope so since I am not sure about how the ‘tree-falling-in-forest-scenario’ works in the cyber-realm – you are seeing it on wardrobe (template) #3!
As I sign off, I thought – therefore – that I would offer three things for consideration. Why three? Well it’s a pretty solid Christian-go-to. I am not saying these three things are more important than one another or that those that are not listed are less so – they are offered as what feels important to name at this moment. Feel free, however, to continue the conversation here or through Facebook or twitter.
Bling Bling Image: stephen boisvert
The Good News: It doesn’t matter whether or not social media or being online is important to us. It’s where a majority of the secular world gathers. And – in our Western democratic context – that means most people.
Jesus sent the disciples out into the world to share (evangelise), not expecting people to come to him either on a mountain or in a synagogue. The Good News has lots to offer those who know nothing about church. In secular-lingo: our values align. If we’re not there, then, there’s not going to be a conversation;
This digital milieu – which includes social media, apps and, websites – is a communication technology. Whether it’s papyrus, hieroglyphics about a character named sphinxie, a velum bound book, a newspaper or radio (to name only a few traditional modes), these examples have been how messages have been imparted.
What is DIFFERENT now – however – is that these tools are also the ways from which relationships and community sprout. Whether you’re a restaurant, charitable NGO or NPO organisation or faith community, more often than naught you are checked out online before anyone ever decides to walk through a physical door. If your online house, wardrobe, or bulletin board (choose your metaphor) is outdated, poorly presented, and/or aesthetically under-whelming, no one’s coming over to debate, eat or prepare to march in a rally. How you look is perceived as who you are; and,
If this media is where people find their life-partner, favourite salon, dentist, political party and possible faith community, it has to be interactive. Static and passive is not what happens online. You can build the brightest barn, shiniest-sparkling-disco-ball-club or most swanky fusion cuisine food truck, but if nothing is happening, then that reflects what’s going on in your brick-and-mortar location.
Finally, I suggest it’s not just about posting content, it’s the nature of the content. And I also offer, it’s not just the nature of the content – it’s the interaction with it. If no one is sharing, liking, talking or commenting, you’re going to face an uphill battle.
If your own people are not seeing this as a way to share the Good News – to discuss publicly why anyone should care – the other assumption that follows is that something may be happening, but no one really seems to care. To engage others, it’s good practice to make sure you are actually modelling engagement!
So … until September, be well and imagine ways to share your Call – both personally and/or congregationally – online. Whatever happens after August is any one’s guess … we know (regardless) that the Spirit keeps moving and Jesus’ ministry does and will find ways to inspire, challenge and change lives! After all, it’s the same Good News simply spoken with new tools …
Stories … they’re funny things. This A Deacon’s Musing feature will share vignettes of voices that are (often) an amalgamation of experiences, contexts and people. They will frequently be monologues, which will be speaking both directly to our United Church of Canada and generally to faith communities. As with all stories, this may not have actually happened, but all stories are true. And as story-tellers know, once you hear them, they are happening to you …
What a pleasure to speak with you. I hope that my attempt to share some of my thoughts translate well from the digital and utilitarian to your organic context. I am aware that in other stories in this Vignette series, you have had the opportunity to hear voices that range from the animate to inanimate. Each of these characters has – hopefully – offered space for thought and reflection, as seems to be part of your experience as an human institution. I will endeavour to reflect that intention in my interaction with you.
The Making of Harry Potter Image: Dave Catchpole
I think protocol – however – is for me to introduce myself to you prior to proceeding in this story. In a larger sense, I believe you would call me technology … those tools and devices that you have designed to make life easier, more efficient, proficient and effective in respect to the quality of life that your species experiences. As I am introducing myself through a monologue and I believe you experience one another relationally, for the sake of comfort, please call me Techne.
I have explored your history through The Google and find your linear experience fascinating. My fascination extends from both the larger context in which you exist within the continuum of the Christian journey and your own particular – shorter – time as a denominational identity that is only found in the political geography known as Canada. And – as Techne – most particularly in your relationship with technology.
I believe your colloquial reference to this relationship might be described as ‘love – hate?’ I have been pursuing The Internets in places such as Wikipedia. In my investigation, it seems that – sometimes – you have embraced technology. In fact, in the same parallel fashion that most media can be used for the carnal or enlightenment, you have been there.
With the printing press – for instance – you were as prolific as were treatise of a more … earthly manner. From the introduction of Vulgate Bibles (which predates the technology of Gutenberg) to the modern global communication network you have shared written text, which you refer to as the Word, as a way to share the ‘Good News.’ And in the midst of this long journey, you have been innovative and at times on the ‘cutting edge.’
Yet now I am not sure how you feel about technology as it becomes more and more decentralised and digitised. In various venues, I have heard you lament individualisation and the sense that communities are wilting in this new and uncertain time. As story-tellers, I know you know that the way you frame the plot is the reality you experience. So I hope the following and concluding observation is encouraging and not heard as further lament.
Printing press Image: Milestoned
Whether you read the Letters of the Roman Senator Cicero or your own contemporary politicians, you often seem to frame change through a lens of nostalgic remembering. I do not believe this is incongruous with your species experience, but I am not certain it is helpful in this time when technology, media and gathering spaces are merging.
For your own particular experience – for instance – the United Church has been the institution that has created a network of social experiences that technology and media complemented and reinforced. Now, those spaces and experiences often begin in a digital context. As with all technology, how they are used determines what the social good – as you might call – is nurtured. But the difference now – I suggest – is that technology is now relational and not simply a reservoir for information.
The information that once took years to access and study is now accessible immediately with a search. What is occurring in this midst of democratised access to information is the creation of places and communities where people meet one another in a detached manner prior to in-person. And often I do not see you there. In these gathering venues, where people have questions and doubts, joys and loss, there seems to a void where once your United Church was often ubiquitous with justice, listening and dialogue.
As I am a character in a monologue in a story that unfolds as the cursor advances, what I am saying and what you hear me sharing occurs in that odd gap you call art. And – hopefully – somewhere in the pause when you change from this webpage to another, you might hear me inviting you to embrace a technology that remains a fertile tool for you to share that for which others are longing …
It has been quite a week since last week’s blog Reconciliation. In that time, Canada has experienced a birthday, there was gang violence in the streets of our Winnipeg on the nation’s 148th, and I received a ‘cease and desist’ email that was clearly not relational. The email was in respect to my use of an image that was initially used in the Reconciliation blog. The image was of a young Aboriginal youth vibrantly arrayed in dance finery from the National Aboriginal Day celebration at the Forks in 2014. I cannot show it to you – as I suspect I would receive another email. Should you be interested – however – this is the link.
So, how do these things connect? I am not sure that I can fully paint that canvas in this blog, but it has been about what I have been musing. I hope – therefore – at the very least this continues the conversation of what reconciliation means for those of us who are non-Aboriginal. We may look into that mirror and uncomfortably recognise ourselves as those who have inherited a coloniser’s or settler’s culture, which has diminished the lives of Canada’s First Nation’s peoples for several centuries.
First of all, it is important to identify that we are in a time when social media and traditional media clash in a larger culture shift. This shift is framed as occurring between modernity and post-modernity. When images and music, art and video can be shared fluidly, there are rightful concerns about appropriation of creative material and fair compensation. There is also the tension of ownership and how do we find that balance. For some, the solution is enforcing laws, regulations and policing creative material for any infraction, regardless of content or intent. For me, the line is less than clear. I try, therefore, to make use of Creative Commons art and always reference and link to the artist.
Something New Image: ♫ joyousjoym~ Blessings♥
Second, this time of shift creates an opportunity for those who have power and privilege to ask what does ownership mean? This question of ownership – I believe – connects directly to any attempt to move toward reconciliation. Whether that be of an image, of land, of the water, and of the very air we breathe: if everything is a commodity, a trademark or copyright, can we actually live into the healing for which many of us long? This journey of Right Relations and Reconciliation is not easy – the mirror that reflects non-Aboriginal affluence is difficult. I truly believe – however – that if we do not do this, then we simply perpetuate a colonial culture dressed in new clothes …
Finally, gang violence in Winnipeg is often associated with a First Nation’s experience, which is a direct inheritor of colonialism. A colonial mindset – framed in culture that used faith to rationalise exploitation – remains more than vibrant to this day. And Canada’s larger cultural identity – regardless of non-Aboriginal or Aboriginal identification – continues to be framed in ownership. Should we not be able to collectively move toward healing, then those who have will continue to oppress and protect what they have from those who want and experience oppression. This binary – which is false I believe from a Christian lens – will continue to be perpetuated until those-of-us-who-have are truly intentional of letting go, finally sitting down, honestly listening and willingly – though not necessarily easily – share, in order to that we all might begin to make something new …
I love alliteration … I also had not anticipated blogging with 3S & 1R: Spiritual, Sabbath, Self-Care & Religious. In fact, I had thought I would be adding a new addition to the Serial Story Feather’s Fall (thanks for the recent inquiries about an update: next week … I hope J )! But then a great twitter conversation occurred about Sabbath and Self-care, which then moved onto the ongoing faith discussion about a person being spiritual but not religious … and thus a blog was born!
My take away from this twitter conversation is that we – as church – have done a rather poor job of translating our words into a context – the secular – that pretty much is longing for them. So (for instance) in this 24/7 economy, in which temporary and part-time jobs mean less financial security, there is often little time for family or self. As a result, the idea of self-care is gaining in importance.
Now in church-ese we call that Sabbath. This rich and nuanced word contains rich history of social and economic justice, which is tied to the earth and agriculture (Creation in church-speak). And we know from multiple studies, these church values are shared by the secular context that talks about self-care. Problem though – here’s the rub – is we’re not even in the conversation (often). Self-care often is individualistic and self-focused. In fact, it mirrors the consumer culture in which we live and is often approached as a product in and of itself. And – since we are not in the conversation – we have little space to connect that the church language of Sabbath carries another shared value: community and corporate well-being!
Snoopy’s Theology Image: Charles Schultz (1976)
From Sabbath and Self-Care, the conversation that inspired this blog then moved on to discuss the phrase/movement of spiritual but not religious. A phrase that often irks those in the church and too often gets dismissed and/or judged. And I think this is unfortunate.
Since we are often not in the conversation or find ourselves only speaking to one another (within our context) and not those who are seeking (the spiritual part), we have done a poor job to address this reality: spiritual seeking itself has been turned into a commodity and leaves it to the individual to put together a system of ritual, practice and discipline: in essence people are creating their own religions (often individual in focus). And – often – without an anchored tradition, sometimes such religious formation leaves a spirituality that is unable to weather some of life’s very real and traumatic realities. I do not claim that formal or institutional religion always does this well – but the communal tradition leaves space for support individualism cannot (in my experience).
As this twitter chat came to an end, I was excited both by the trust being shared and the public nature. For those who aren’t familiar with Twitter, this is all public. Currently the Presbytery has a reach of 1200+ Followers and the person with whom I was exploring these great ideas and appropriate challenges has many as well! Public discussion of faith is great!
And here’s the final take away: if we are currently not in the conversation, need alone participating publicly (Church-ese might go as far as calling this Evangelism) then not only do we need to ask whether we are relevant, but do we have any moral or ethical stance on which to judge? I think that reality is we do tend to judge – and I’d challenge that’s easy to do when you aren’t in the game, need alone even on the sidelines …
It is an honour to highlight our newest relationship with the Winnipeg Branch of the Canadian Culinary Federation (CCFCC). After exploring their needs, their previous website presence and what their hopes were in respect to integrating the work they do in Winnipeg more intentionally with social media, we began a refresh in 4Q 2014. After renovating the branding of their social media platforms, we began to transfer their old site, domain and hosting to a new provider. During our conversations and listening to CCFCC’s passion to connect both with its member and the larger community of Winnipeg, we decided on a WordPress theme and layout that would allow them to embrace a dynamic site that will help them meet their goals for their May 2015 signature event and beyond!
CCFCC’s presence includes a Dynamic Site and also utilises Facebook & Twitter as its primary social media platforms. As our relationship evolves, we are also grateful for the trust to also provide the Federation with Maintenance of its website & to provide ongoing support in respect to the branding of its social media presence. This experience with CCFCC has been exciting for many reasons, one of which is the reminder that a web presence is more than a means by which people might garner information. Just as CCFCC supports chefs, suppliers and people working in the hospitality industry, we hope our care of their online activity allows them to do the work their Non-Profit organisation has done not only well since 1972, but to excel vibrantly!
Canadian Culinary Federation: Winnipeg (Twitter)
Canadian Culinary Federation: Winnipeg (Website: Coming Soon)